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.
I didn’t see mention of a key factor. What are Audible customers required to do to get their settlement? Amazon has the database savvy to determine on its own who was cheated and for most customers it still has their contact information. It could simply send them a coupon for those free audiobooks.
I ask, because that’s not how these class-action settlements often work. The lawyers who sued are invariably well rewarded. They bill the losing company for their fees with the greatest of ease. They have software that does the tallying. But the agreement may establish tiresome burdens for those who’re supposed to be the victims in the dispute. They may have to do so much to collect, that collecting isn’t worth their time.
I saw that long ago when a lawsuit was filed against Apple for claiming that low-end models of the then current Mac models would run fine when the then-new OS X was released. The charges were correct. I had two of them, a desktop and a laptop. Both became slugs under OS X. Did I collect? Nope, not a penny.
Lawyers allegedly representing me had worked out a sweetheart deal with Apple’s lawyers. Collecting their fees, almost certainly $300 an hour or more, was easy. To collect my pittance, a mere $10 per machine, was so burdened with paperwork and requirements, that I suspected I’d be earning about $5 an hour for my labors. It not only wasn’t worth it, I feel almost certain that Apple’s lawyers and those supposedly looking out for me must have smirked at what they’d come up with.
That’s the key question in this settlement. The lawyers who sued will undoubtedly make out like bandits. The real issue is what sort of burdens are imposed on those who were the alleged victims of Amazon’s misbehavior.
Time to find another audio books company
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Hmmm. Thousands of free audiobooks being given out, but I hope the authors and narrators are getting their royalties from this snafu. Amazon seems untouchable as always, and always at the expense of the people making them money in the first place who can’t do anything about it.
This effing company!!!!!! I tried the free trial but didn’t find anything I liked. I canceled. I 100% know I did because I remember specifically that they required I answer questions about why I was canceling. I just wanted to cancel, not fill out marketing data. I was then billed for another YEAR 2x a month!!!!! $30/month!! And adding insult to injury I didn’t get to keep any of the credits. They offered to refund some credits and said they wouldn’t expire and I could keep them after canceling the membership. But alas that too was a lie as they disappeared. So Ffffffcuk this company