Bookstore Files Antitrust Class Action Against Amazon and Publishers for Fixing Wholesale Print Book Prices

An Evanston, Illinois bookseller has accused Inc. and the “Big Five” book publishers of restraining trade and empowering Amazon to obtain monopoly power in the online retail trade book market. Amazon and the Big Five, Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins Publishers L.L.C., Macmillan Publishing Group LLC, Penguin Random House LLC, Simon & Schuster Inc., and Simon & Schuster Digital Sales Inc., allegedly accomplish this by entering into agreements that fix the wholesale price of books and block Amazon’s competitors from competing on price or product availability.

The Southern District of New York complaint clarified that the plaintiff, Bookends & Beginnings LLC, which sells books at its store and online, is concerned about the market for “trade books,” a term referring to “general interest fiction and non-fiction books,” rather than“non-trade books,” like academic textbooks and reference materials. The filing alleges that together, the Big Five print about 80% of the trade books sold domestically.

The filing also clarified that this lawsuit concerns the sale of print books — hardbacks, paperbacks, and mass-produced — of which Amazon sells about 90% nationwide. A footnote explained that another lawsuit, filed in January, also by Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP, challenges the defendants’ conduct with respect to the sale of electronic books.

According to the complaint, the defendants restrain competition in the market for print trade books through “highly restrictive” most favored nation (MFN) clauses nestled within the distribution agreements between Amazon and each publisher. The MFN clauses allegedly “entitle the buyer to the lowest price or best terms that the supplier offers to any other buyer, but combined with Amazon’s market dominance, they serve an anticompetitive purpose that controls the wholesale price of print trade books, destroys Amazon’s retail competition, reduces consumer choices, and creates a disincentive among booksellers to compete on price or non-price promotions in the sale of print trade books.”

Like the aforementioned ebook lawsuit, the instant case contends that Amazon and the Big Five continue to behave anticompetitively despite numerous governmental investigations. In turn, the plaintiff and members of the proposed “Bookseller and Online Bookseller Classes” request injunctive relief to end the supposedly ongoing violations. The antitrust complaint also seeks monetary recovery, including treble damages for all overcharges incurred. 

The bookseller is represented by Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP and Sperling & Slater P.C.