January 20, 2010

Amazon Backs Down! Settles Antitrust Lawsuit Filed By BookLocker | printable version

As many of you probably remember, in March, 2008, an Amazon / BookSurge representative called us on the phone and told us we (and other Print on Demand publishers) must start paying Amazon to print our books. If we didn't, they would remove our "buy it now" buttons from Amazon.com.

NOTE: Amazon recently retired the BookSurge name (that was not a surprise), and is now doing their POD business under the name CreateSpace. Other than the name, not much appears to have changed.

After the phone call, we
publicly cried foul
, and alerted the publishing industry about the threat. We subsequently heard from other publishers who had received the same ultimatum, including a university press. A media firestorm erupted and many authors and publishers alike screamed "monopoly", launching an online revolt. Several, including myself, boycotted Amazon.com, and publicly shared their anger about the Amazon / BookSurge (now CreateSpace) Ultimatum.

Our publicity efforts forced Amazon to finally make public what targeted POD publishers claimed to have been told through what some considered intimidating phone conversations. Until that point, Amazon hadn't appeared to want to put anything in writing.

Unfortunately, many of the large POD publishers signed the Amazon / BookSurge (now CreateSpace) contract after Amazon gave them a deadline. We did not. BookLocker.com, instead, filed a class-action lawsuit against Amazon, alleging their actions violated federal antitrust laws.

That's when the real battle began. We spent hundreds of hours researching, corresponding with other publishers, authors and our attorneys, and writing and rewriting legalese that would at times make my eyes glaze over. Each time I had to work on the case, my initial anger about the unfairness of it all would return. I'll admit it was hard to keep a smile on my face most days. The worst part of the entire experience was the time I was forced to spend away from our children because of Amazon's actions. Mason is three years old and we've been dealing with this for almost two years now.

As expected, Amazon filed a motion to dismiss. We were not surprised in August, 2009 when Chief U.S. District Judge John Woodcock Jr. issued a 26-page order denying Amazon's motion to dismiss.

We suspected Amazon would want to settle before discovery began and we were right.

We hammered out the details for almost two months. I wanted to share the settlement information with you all in the worst way during that time, but could not because the negotiations could have fallen through at any moment (and almost did a few times!). For example, we specified initially that any cash offered to BookLocker by Amazon would go directly to a charity and we wanted that statement included in the settlement. Amazon refused to allow the charity wording to appear in there. (Why do you think they did that??) We subsequently refused any cash payment from Amazon. We then included a statement in the settlement that BookLocker declined a cash settlement from Amazon...and Amazon insisted on removing that verbiage, too.

You can read the final settlement HERE.

We didn't do this for the money. We did it to make Amazon understand that covert efforts aimed at forcing POD publishers to pay Amazon / BookSurge (now Createspace) to print their books is not the way responsible corporate citizens should act. By getting Amazon to rescind their pay-us-to-print-your-books-or-else policy, we believe BookLocker's lawsuit achieved its goal.

Large companies will run all over small ones unless somebody fights back. The publishing industry contains many players and, for the benefit of readers everywhere, they all deserve an equal place in the market. Allowing the largest online retailer to strong-arm publishers into paying more for a product that may, in fact, be inferior hurts publishers, authors, and, ultimately, the reader. Yes, BookSurge (now operating under the CreateSpace name) has had quality problems. We recently ordered some books from them to see if things had changed. One arrived looking so bad that Amazon inserted an apology note into the book itself, saying it was the best they could get from their distributor. (IT'S THEIR BOOK!) Another arrived with the interior appearing upside-down. Their quality problems have been reported online by others as well.

I know many of you, readers, authors, and publishers alike, have many questions and I'll be happy to answer them! Please email your questions to me at angela - at - booklocker.com. I'll publish the questions (anonymously, of course) and the answers right here - so keep checking back.

Finally, we want to publicly express our deepest gratitude to Seth Klein, Bob Izard, and all the caring folks at Izard Nobel LLP, and to Anthony Pellegrini and the team at Rudman & Winchell. Without them, we and all POD publishers might be in a completely different position today.

Angela Hoy is an advocate for writers, and is the publisher of WritersWeekly.com, which offers free job listings and paying markets for freelance writers every Wednesday. Subscribe at WritersWeekly.com. She is also the publisher at BookLocker.com, which offers full-service, affordable print on demand publishing and free ebook publishing. Attorney Mark Levine, author of The Fine Print of Self-Publishing, rates BookLocker.com as "Outstanding." He says, "As close to perfection as you're going to find in the world of ebook and POD publishing. Booklocker understands what new authors experience, and have put together a package that is the best in the business. You can't go wrong here."

SEE UPDATES TO THIS HERE

 




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