Today, I got a notification (PDF link) of an impending class action settlement involving Amazon’s audiobook subsidiary, Audible. The lawsuit being settled had to do with Audible’s $15 audiobook “credits,” which customers would subscribe to buy one per month. These credits expired after six months if not used, and were lost altogether upon canceling the subscription (though any audiobooks the customers had purchased during that time remain available to them).
The suit passed under my radar when it was filed in March, 2017, but Nate Hoffelder at The Digital Reader took notice. The plaintiff, former Audible subscriber Grant McKee, contended that the early expiration of these credits violates federal banking laws requiring gift certificates to be good for five years, and California law that prohibits them from expiring at all.
The settlement letter explains that the matter hasn’t been decided by a court, but the plaintiffs feel the proposed settlement is just about as good a deal as they could hope for, because it compensates the class members now, and means they can avoid spending extra time and legal fees to pursue it further. Amazon and Audible still contend that they didn’t do anything wrong, but it seems they would likewise rather settle for this reasonable amount than spend extra time and money of their own and possibly still end up losing.
Under the terms of the settlement, any Audible member who lost at least one credit through expiration, canceling their account, and/or had an Audible gift credit expire will be entitled to one free audiobook per cause, up to a total of three. Members who lost a total of five or more credits will qualify for an additional free audiobook. Also, anyone who suffered overdraft fees as a result of Audible charging another payment card on the member’s account can apply to have those refunded as well. The settlement also includes up to $1.5 million in plaintiff legal fees, and payments of $5,000 each to McKee and other plaintiffs in some related lawsuits this settlement is also resolving. Further information is available on the settlement’s web site, McKeeSettlement.com.
According to Top Class Actions, this could result in Audible dispensing 12 million free audiobooks, and 8.4 million customers could be eligible for overdraft fee compensation. That’s an awful lot of expired audiobook credits. But I suppose it’s not too surprising that a company like Amazon would structure its services in this way. After all, money your customers have forgotten they spent without getting a return is some of the easiest money to make. Even after giving out the free audiobooks, and paying its own and the plaintiffs’ legal fees, Amazon may still have come out ahead.