Summary:

Did you buy an ebook in the last two years? Amazon is notifying customers of the potential for a refund and other retailers will soon follow suit. The process is part of a long, complicated class action proceeding.

Kindle users received an email notice this weekend from Amazon that they may be eligible for a refund of up to $1.32 per ebook. But they should not hold their breath waiting to about collect.

The email notice is part of a process to resolve a price-fixing case brought by state governments. It calls for retailers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble to inform customers about the settlement during the next two months so that any objectors can speak up before a “fairness hearing” slated for February.

The refunds in question amount to $1.32 for New York Times bestsellers purchased from HarperCollins, Simon&Schuster or Hachette between April 2010 and May of 2012. For older titles, customers will receive 25 or 32 cents. Should the deal go forward, customers will eventually receive a credit to their ebook account or, in some cases, a check in the mail.

While customers can “object,” the reality is that only a tiny percentage ever do in these type of settlements. Instead, the February hearing is likely to provide an occasion for more posturing between those who like the deal (Amazon and the government) and those who don’t (Apple and two holdout publishers, Penguin and Macmillan.)

Amazon is already using the settlement notice process to trumpet its view of events.

“In addition to the account credit, the settlements impose limitations on the publishers’ ability to set e-book prices. We think these settlements are a big win for customers and look forward to lowering prices on more Kindle books in the future,” said the Amazon email, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The three settling publishers are in favor of the deal because it allows them to escape the purgatory of expensive class action proceedings and, presumably, because it will result in some of the $69 million they are to pay coming back to them as a result of customers using the credits for new purchases.

Any customer payments will not occur anytime soon, however, because the final settlement must still be approved after the February hearing. While US District Judge Denise Cote has indicated she is strongly in favor, the deal could be delayed if Apple and the two publishers hold out and the settlement ends up before an appeals court. The upshot is that the earliest consumers will see any refund is next spring; alternately, if the process drags out, it could take until 2014.

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