Help Me Put My Antitrust Blood Money to Good Use
“Good news!” says today’s email from Amazon.com. “You are entitled to a credit of $6.82 for some of your past Kindle book purchases. The credit results from legal settlements reached with publishers Hachette, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, and Penguin in antitrust lawsuits filed by State Attorneys General and Class Plaintiffs about the price of eBooks.”
Entitled? What exactly entitles me to a credit of $6.82? I paid the prices asked by the books’ owners. In return, I got books worth reading. These were classic voluntary, win-win transactions. In justice, I’m not entitled to a refund of any kind.
But wait — that $6.82 is my share of an antitrust shakedown settlement that gouged $166 million from the nation’s five biggest publishers. On what grounds? On grounds that consumers are entitled to buy ebooks at prices they happen to prefer, regardless of the prices set by the books’ publishers.
No, that’s not the way antitrust mavens would describe it. They would say that publishers engaged in a “conspiracy” with Apple Inc. to “fix prices” for ebooks. In their view, it doesn’t matter that there was no fraud or coercion, that no firm could dictate terms to any other, and that each company set the price only for its own products. In the topsy-turvy world of antitrust, the mere fact that they acted in concert condemns them to suffer today’s bloodletting.
Once again, antitrust rationalizes the desire for outcomes that the free market
stubbornly won’t provide. As I explained at Forbes.com last year, antitrust lawsuits consistently penalize America’s best companies for their business virtues.
Meanwhile, I’m at a loss on how to turn my Amazon.com credit into a protest. My email says the credit will be applied to my next purchase automatically — so unless I want to stop doing business with Amazon, I can’t avoid benefiting from the blood money that’s been squeezed from five innocent publishers.
Or can I? Do you have a better idea? I’ll be watching my Twitter feed (@thomasabowden) for suggestions on how to turn this high-tech injustice into a nationwide dissent that will raise awareness of the evils of antitrust.