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Amazon, major publishers win dismissal of antitrust lawsuits over book pricing

FILE PHOTO: An Amazon sign at the company's logistics centre in Boves, France

By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A federal judge on Thursday dismissed two antitrust lawsuits accusing Amazon.com Inc and five large publishers of illegally conspiring to fix U.S. prices of electronic and traditional books, causing consumers and bookstores to pay more.

U.S. District Judge Gregory Woods in Manhattan accepted a magistrate judge's recommendations to end both cases against Amazon, Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins Publishers, Macmillan Publishing Group, Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster.

Consumers accused the defendants of signing agreements that let the publishers inflate e-book prices by locking in a 30% "agency" fee for Amazon on each sale, and guaranteeing that Amazon's prices would not be undercut.

Retail booksellers, meanwhile, alleged that Amazon had been awarded a "discriminatory discount" on hardbacks, paperbacks and mass-produced books, forcing them to pay higher wholesale prices to the publishers and depressing book sales.

According to the plaintiffs, Amazon commands 90% of retail e-book sales and 50% of print trade book sales, while the publishers account for 80% of both kinds of books.

But in two opinions totaling 113 pages, U.S. Magistrate Judge Valerie Figueredo recommended last month that both lawsuits be dismissed, citing a lack of evidence of collusion.

She found it "telling" in the e-book case that the consumers offered "no plausible explanation for why the publishers would have been motivated to participate in a conspiracy that further entrenched Amazon's dominance as an e-book retailer."

Woods adopted Figueredo's reasoning in full. The lawsuits were dismissed without prejudice, meaning the plaintiffs can try amending their complaints.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Amazon had no immediate comment.

The trade book case was led by Bookends & Beginnings, a bookseller in Evanston, Illinois.

The cases are In re Amazon.com Inc e-Book Antitrust Litigation, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 21-00351; and Bookends & Beginnings LLC v Amazon.com Inc et al in the same court, No. 21-02584.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Matthew Lewis)