Friday, December 18, 2015

Amazon Books and the Robinson-Patman Act from an Antitrust Law Perspective

Following my most recent antitrust article looking into the Authors United Amicus Brief (which you can read here), I was contacted for my thoughts concerning Amazon's new book store and the Robinson-Patman Act. For some background and thoughts on this subject, you can check out this article from The Digital Reader. The article links to other articles about two cases related to booksellers and the Robinson-Patman Act. The first case was AMERICAN BOOKSELLERS ASS'N v. RANDOM HOUSE. I didn't link to that one and I won't be analyzing it because it isn't publicly available. I want everyone to be able to read the court opinion when I talk about a case. AMERICAN BOOKSELLERS ASS'N v. RANDOM HOUSE ended in a settlement, so the court didn't fully reach the merits of the claim anyways. The second case was AMERICAN BOOKSELLERS ASS'N v. BARNES & NOBLE, INC.. I would like to take some time to look at the court's opinion in this case so we can see what requirements the ABA will have to meet to win in a lawsuit against Amazon (arguing that Amazon is violating the Robinson-Patman Act with their new bookstore, Amazon Books, in Seattle). Unless I note otherwise, everything I quote comes from that link. I would provide more specific, targeted links if I could link to particular sections of the court opinion, but I don't know how to do that. Let me start by reminding everyone that I am not a lawyer and nothing I say on my blog is legal advice.

Let's start by noting the parties in this case. The district court judge sums it up nicely. "In this antitrust action brought by the American Booksellers Association on behalf of all California members ("ABA") and twenty-seven independent bookstores against various defendants associated with Barnes & Noble, Inc. ("the Barnes & Noble defendants") and Borders Group, Inc. ("the Borders defendants"), three motions are currently before the Court." Put simply, the ABA joined with 27 independent bookstores to sue Barnes & Noble and Borders for violating the Robinson-Patman Act.

In this case, the ABA and independent bookstores allege that Barnes & Noble and Borders were receiving discounts and other favorable terms from Ingram. The judge notes under Section (II)(A) of his opinion that "[u]nder the Robinson-Patman Act, it is 'unlawful for any person engaged in commerce, ... either directly or indirectly, to discriminate in price between different purchasers of commodities of like grade and quality, ... where the effect of such discrimination may be substantially to lessen competition or tend to create a monopoly in any line of commerce, or to injure, destroy, or prevent competition with any person who either grants or knowingly receives the benefit of such discrimination, or with customers of either of them[.]' 15 U.S.C. § 13(a) (Robinson-Patman Act § 2(a))." Additionally, "'[i]t shall be unlawful for any person engaged in commerce, in the course of such commerce, knowingly to induce or receive a discrimination in price which is prohibited by this section.' 15 U.S.C. 13(f) (Robinson-Patman Act § 2(f))."

In simpler terms, a buyer cannot knowingly induce a seller to give them better terms or better prices than they give to other buyers for "commodities of like grade and quality" when to do so would (a) lessen competition, (b) create a monopoly in any line of commerce, or (c) injure, destroy, or prevent competition with anyone benefiting from such a transaction. The ABA was going for two things in this case:

1. Money damages (Which are automatically tripled under the Robinson-Patman Act, also known as "treble damages.")

2. An injunction (You can read about injunctions on Wikipedia here. Basically, it's a court order telling a party to either not do something or stop doing something.)

Since a party gets triple damages under the Robinson-Patman Act, it's more difficult to obtain money damages than it is to get an injunction. The court notes seven things that have to be proved (in this case, by the ABA) in order to get money damages:

"1. Two or more contemporaneous sales by the same seller to the plaintiff and a competing buyer;

2. At different prices;

3. Of commodities of like grade and quality;

4. Where at least one of the sales was made in interstate commerce;

5. The price discrimination had the requisite effect upon competition generally;

6. The competing buyer knew the price discrimination was unlawful; and

7. The price discrimination caused injury to the plaintiff. Rutledge v. Electric Hose & Rubber Co., 511 F.2d 668, 677 (9th Cir.1975) (citations omitted); Automatic Canteen Co. of Am. v. FTC, 346 U.S. 61, 73, 73 S.Ct. 1017, 97 L.Ed. 1454 (1953). Each plaintiff seeking damages must make 'some showing of actual injury attributable to something the antitrust laws were designed to prevent.' J. Truett Payne Co. v. Chrysler Motors Corp., 451 U.S. 557, 562, 101 S.Ct. 1923, 68 L.Ed.2d 442 (1981). Each such plaintiff 'must, of course, be able to show a causal connection between the price discrimination in violation of the Act and the injury suffered.' Id. (quoting Perkins v. Standard Oil Co., 395 U.S. 642, 648, 89 S.Ct. 1871, 23 L.Ed.2d 599 (1969))."

The sticking point for money damages is the actual injury. The ABA and the independent bookstores needed to prove both that Barnes & Noble and Borders knowingly made agreements with Ingram that violated the Robinson-Patman Act and that these agreements actually injured them. To do so, they relied on the calculations of their expert witness, Dr. Franklin M. Fisher. The court refers to the evidence presented by Dr. Fisher as the "Fisher Model." I'll spare you the court's analysis. The judge ultimately concludes that "[b]ecause the Fisher model fails to show that discounts received by defendants from any particular publisher or wholesaler harmed any of plaintiffs, the Fisher model fails to show that any publisher's discounts to defendants caused any actual harm to plaintiffs." In other words, the ABA and independent bookstores lose their money damages claim on summary judgment (and you can read about summary judgment on Wikipedia here. It's basically when a court rules in favor of a party without a full trial).

The court did not grant summary judgment on the injunction claim, because the injunction claim can survive and move on to trial under a weaker standard. The judge explained the difference. "Instead, the plaintiffs must show only that there is a reasonable possibility that the price discrimination may harm competition; this reasonable possibility of harm is referred to as 'competitive injury.' Falls City Indus., Inc. v. Vanco Beverage, Inc., 460 U.S. 428, 434-35, 103 S.Ct. 1282, 75 L.Ed.2d 174 (1983)." Instead of proving actual injury, they would only have to prove "a reasonable possibility" of injury at trial.

What does this mean for Amazon? It means that the ABA would have to prove all seven elements I've quoted above from AMERICAN BOOKSELLERS ASS'N v. BARNES & NOBLE, INC. in order to obtain the triple damages provided for in the Robinson-Patman Act. That's why, as noted at The Digital Reader, Tiecher at the ABA has said, "that it's 'far too soon to speculate' about what Amazon is planning in terms of a bricks-and-mortar profile, ABA is watching the new physical store closely. And he promised his constituents that he has no intention of allowing Amazon Books to benefit from its ties to He also pointed out that, for the small store to do so could be a violation of antitrust law." In other words, the ABA likely recognizes that a lawsuit against Amazon and Amazon's bookstore, Amazon Books, would be premature at this point.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

The Authors United Amicus Brief from an Antitrust Law Perspective

Apple has appealed the 2nd Circuit's decision in UNITED STATES v. APPLE. They've petitioned for a writ of certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court. In other words, the Supreme Court is still deciding whether they're going to take the case or not. The Authors Guild and Authors United hired a New York law firm to file an amicus brief with the Supreme Court in support of Apple's actions.

Let me begin this blog post by saying, once again, that I am not a lawyer and nothing on my blog is legal advice. I simply want to take a look at the Authors United amicus brief from an antitrust law perspective. There's going to be some legal jargon that I'll try to explain. Let's start with "amicus brief." According to Wikipedia, "[a]n amicus curiae (literally, friend of the court; plural, amici curiae) is someone who is not a party to a case and offers information that bears on the case, but who has not been solicited by any of the parties to assist a court. This may take the form of legal opinion, testimony or learned treatise (the amicus brief) and is a way to introduce concerns ensuring that the possibly broad legal effects of a court decision will not depend solely on the parties directly involved in the case." The Authors United amicus brief brings up facts and legal arguments that they feel (and their lawyer feels) should be considered by the Supreme Court. While I disagree with a large portion of their factual claims, I'm more interested in their legal argument. You can read the entire Authors United amicus brief here. I'm going to continue calling it the Authors United amicus brief (or AU amicus brief or the brief) because the Authors Guild has the same initials as the Attorney General and I don't want any confusion on that point. Just keep in mind that the Authors Guild supported this brief as well.

2nd Circuit Ruling

I'd like to start by getting at the heart of the 2nd Circuit's holding in UNITED STATES v. APPLE. When Apple decided to enter the ebook market, they made a series of agreements with 5 of the Big 6 publishers (Random House didn't make an agreement) that ultimately caused these 5 publishers to impose new terms on Amazon. This had the effect of raising the prices of ebooks and allowed Apple to enter the market making a profit on every sale instead of taking a hit (which Amazon was doing). The 2nd Circuit had to decide whether the agreements between Apple and the publishers were vertical agreements or horizontal agreements because they have a different standard of review. The 2nd Circuit found these agreements to be horizontal agreements (mixed with vertical agreements) which makes them a per se (or automatic) violation of the Sherman Act.

In explaining the difference, the 2nd Circuit notes that: "This appeal requires us to address the important distinction between “horizontal” agreements to set prices, which involve coordination “between competitors at the same level of [a] market structure,” and “vertical” agreements on pricing, which are created between parties “at different levels of [a] market structure.” Anderson News, L.L.C. v. Am. Media, Inc., 680 F.3d 162, 182 (2d Cir.2012) (internal quotation marks omitted). Under § 1 of the Sherman Act, the former are, with limited exceptions, per se unlawful, while the latter are unlawful only if an assessment of market effects, known as a rule-of-reason analysis, reveals that they unreasonably restrain trade. See Leegin Creative Leather Prods., Inc. v. PSKS, Inc., 551 U.S. 877, 893, 127 S.Ct. 2705, 168 L.Ed.2d 623 (2007)." UNITED STATES v. APPLE (Emphasis added).

Vertical agreements are analyzed under a rule of reason analysis while horizontal agreements are an automatic violation of the Sherman Act. Both the trial court and the 2nd Circuit found the agreements between Apple and the publishers to be horizontal agreements. The Authors United amicus brief argues that the 2nd Circuit should have found the agreements to be vertical agreements and applied the rule of reason analysis. The rule of reason analysis is the default preferred method used by the courts.

The court in  LEEGIN CREATIVE LEATHER PRODS. v. PSKS, INC. explains the default rule of reason. Notably, "Under this rule, the factfinder weighs all of the circumstances of a case in deciding whether a restrictive practice should be prohibited as imposing an unreasonable restraint on competition." Continental T. V., Inc. v. GTE Sylvania Inc., 433 U.S. 36, 49, 97 S. Ct. 2549, 53 L. Ed. 2d 568 (1977). Appropriate factors to take into account include "specific information about the relevant business" and "the restraint's history, nature, and effect." Khan, supra, at 10, 118 S. Ct. 275, 139 L. Ed. 2d 199. Whether the businesses involved have market power is a further, significant consideration. See, e.g., Copperweld Corp. v. Independence Tube Corp., 467 U.S. 752, 768, 104 S. Ct. 2731, 81 L. Ed. 2d 628 (1984) (equating the rule of reason with "an inquiry into market power and market structure designed to assess [a restraint's] actual effect"); see also Illinois Tool Works Inc. v. Independent Ink, Inc., 547 U.S. 28, 45-46, 126 S. Ct. 1281, 164 L. Ed. 2d 26 (2006). In its design and function the rule distinguishes between restraints with anticompetitive effect that are harmful to the consumer and restraints stimulating competition that are in the consumer's best interest." (Emphasis added). Vertical agreements are analyzed by the courts looking into the factors in bold in the above quote.

The court in LEEGIN CREATIVE LEATHER PRODS. v. PSKS, INC. also explained when the per se (or automatic violation) rule applies. "The per se rule, treating categories of restraints as necessarily illegal, eliminates the need to study the reasonableness of an individual restraint in light of the real market forces at work, Business Electronics Corp. v. Sharp Electronics Corp., 485 U.S. 717, 723, 108 S. Ct. 1515, 99 L. Ed. 2d 808 (1988); and, it must be acknowledged, the per se rule can give clear guidance for certain conduct. Restraints that are per se unlawful include horizontal agreements among competitors to fix prices, see Texaco, supra, at 5, 126 S. Ct. 1276, 164 L. Ed. 2d 1, or to divide markets, see Palmer v. BRG of Ga., Inc., 498 U.S. 46, 49-50, 111 S. Ct. 401, 112 L. Ed. 2d 349 (1990) (per curiam)." (Emphasis added). In other words, agreements between competitors at the same level in the marketplace (like the publishers) to fix prices or divide markets are automatic violations of the Sherman Act.

I don't want to spend too much time analyzing the 2nd Circuit's decision. In very basic terms, the 2nd Circuit found that Apple's agreements with the publishers were a "hub and spoke" agreement that includes both vertical and horizontal agreements. Their agreements effectively imposed a vertical agreement between Apple and each publisher individually and a horizontal agreement between the 5 publishers. Apple was the "hub" and the publishers were the "spokes." This has been found to be a per se violation of the Sherman Act in the 3rd and 7th Circuits because "hub and spoke" agreements have both vertical and horizontal elements. The 2nd Circuit agreed with and adopted this approach. If you'd like to read the entire 2nd Circuit case, you can find it here.

The AU Amicus Brief - Rule of Reason

Let me start by saying that you can read the entire AU amicus brief here. The entire brief is 38 pages and cites 8 cases. It does not include the word "vertical" or "horizontal" anywhere in the document. The brief instead relies on questionable facts (they cite Scott Turow articles several times) and a shaky legal argument that doesn't even include an analysis of vertical or horizontal agreements. Let's start with their argument for applying the rule of reason standard.

The brief starts off by noting that the rule of reason is the default standard for analyzing agreements under antitrust law. I agree with this idea and the Supreme Court has said the same. The brief then goes on to say that the 2nd Circuit ignored precedent and "the Second Circuit ignored this court's unwavering instruction that per se rules should not apply to conduct with potentially procompetitive effects." They cite LEEGIN CREATIVE LEATHER PRODS. v. PSKS, INC.. I disagree with this point. The court's "unwavering instruction" is that "horizontal agreements among competitors to fix prices" are per se illegal. If such an agreement exists, and I believe that it does here, we don't analyze the procompetitive effects of the agreement because it's already automatically illegal.

Let's concede the point and say the rule of reason applies. Let's say the agreements were strictly vertical agreements. I still think Apple loses the case. The Department of Justice takes that stance that exclusionary vertical agreements are also violations of the Sherman Act. For an interesting read, check out this article on the DOJ's website. A. Douglas Melamed (Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Antitrust Division of the DOJ) gave this address to the American Bar Association. Here are a few quotes I find helpful:

1. "Although vertical agreements are generally procompetitive, they can injure competition, under some circumstances, when they deny (or raise the cost of) a needed or valuable input -- such as distribution services -- to a rival."

2. "Exclusionary vertical agreements are agreements that tend to exclude competitors of one of the parties to the agreement. Examples include exclusive dealing, tie-in arrangements, and most favored nation agreements."

3. "The foregoing suggests that a necessary condition for an exclusionary vertical agreement to be anticompetitive is that the agreement is likely to enable the manufacturer that would benefit from the exclusion of a rival to gain or preserve market power that it otherwise would not have. The additional market power enables the manufacturer to recoup its investment in the otherwise inefficient restraint, including the consideration it must pay to the distributors."

The second quote is applicable because the agreements between Apple and the publishers included a most favored nation clause. The third quote applies directly to this situation. Apple gained market share that it otherwise would not have had but for the terms that the publishers imposed on Amazon.

The AU Amicus Brief - 1st Amendment

The AU brief also claims that allowing Amazon to have monopoly control over the ebook market is at odds with the 1st Amendment. The brief claims "Amazon's dominant market position... threatened the free exchange of ideas which this country values so highly." The brief goes on to argue that Amazon "suppressed" both Macmillan and Hachette. Throughout this entire section of their argument, AU cites no case law, with the exception of the first paragraph. Their argument also implies that the 1st Amendment pretty much mandates the continued existence of publishers since they fund nonfiction, academic research. Their first paragraph contains three cherry picked quotes from two cases. I'd like to look at those.

The brief starts by saying "[t]he United States has a 'profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open." That's a quote from NEW YORK TIMES CO. v. SULLIVAN. It's vague and doesn't really help their argument. Additionally, they left off the ending "and that it may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials." The sentence they partially quoted was specifically addressing the rights of citizens to verbally attack the government and public officials.

From the same New York Times case, AU also says that "right conclusions are more likely to be gathered out of a multitude of tongues, than through any kind of authoritative selection." Here's the full quote from Judge Learned Hand:
"The First Amendment, said Judge Learned Hand, 'presupposes that right conclusions are more likely to be gathered out of a multitude of tongues than through any kind of authoritative selection. To many, this is, and always will be, folly, but we have staked upon it our all.'"
I don't see how this is in any way favorable to the publishers' case. Their companies, by definition, rely on authoritative selection to create books. They reject the vast majority of what is sent to them. In contrast, Amazon removed the barrier to entry, allowing a "multitude of tongues" once silenced by traditional publishing to speak. Amazon is the champion of the 1st Amendment, not traditional publishing.

The AU brief also acknowledges the "right of the public to receive suitable access to social, political, esthetic, moral, and other ideas and experiences." This quote comes from the case RED LION BROADCASTING CO. v. FCC. The case is about Congress and the FCC restricting public broadcasting, but that's fine. These three quotes were cherry picked for a general appeal to emotion because they surely don't make any kind of coherent legal argument.

The most amusing part of the AU's 1st Amendment argument is as follows: "[f]ortunately, when Apple and others entered the e-book market, Amazon's control over culture decreased. E-books not sold on Amazon were available elsewhere. E-books not marketed by Amazon were marketed elsewhere." They're actually arguing that:

1. Amazon was violating the public's 1st Amendment right to be able to purchase e-books through multiple channels.

2. Apple's illegal price-fixing scheme with the publishers corrected this 1st Amendment violation so their illegal agreements were ok.

I'm not even sure how to respond to that. It's ridiculous. Apple wanted to enter the market making money and illegally forced the market to change to accommodate higher prices. They weren't courageously protecting the public from a continued 1st Amendment violation.


The AU brief only cited 8 cases, most of them for cherry picked quotations. Their only remotely plausible argument comes in under Leegin and that argument seems to lose under both the per se rule and the rule of reason. The FTC notes in an article, Monopsony and The Meaning of "Consumer Welfare" that "[c]ourts and federal law enforcement officials routinely invoke 'consumer welfare' as the guiding principle behind their application of the antitrust laws." Consumer welfare is enhanced by the low prices Amazon provides, not by the artificially higher prices Apple and the publishers forced on the market. For more info on this subject, you can check out my last Authors United antitrust article here.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Authors United Letter from an Antitrust Law Perspective

Disclaimer: Nothing on my blog is legal advice. I am not a lawyer, nor an expert in antitrust law, and will not be liable for any actions taken based on my thoughts or opinions in this blog. I'm approaching this as nothing other than an academic exercise and I've watched exactly one antitrust motion hearing in federal court (it was a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss).

After I made some comments on Konrath's blog and over at The Passive Voice regarding some case law that I thought was relevant to the Authors United letter to the DOJ, I was e-mailed by a couple of people and they asked that I write a blog where I analyze the Authors United letter from an antitrust perspective. I am not an expert on antitrust law (or any law). Admittedly, there will be a few holes in my blog post and I welcome comments from anyone on this subject. I also wanted to note that some of the things I look into may not be antitrust law; it will vary based on the allegations.

I will be citing the Authors United letter from this website. I will also only use cases that are in the public record that I can link to (with one exception where I link to a Wikipedia article that has the same basic info). Authors United starts out by admitting "we are not experts in antitrust law, and this letter is not a legal brief." Fair enough. They do complain a lot though and they obviously think the DOJ investigation will lead to some form of relief or redress for them so I thought it would be interesting to look into what they're saying as a legal complaint (even though it obviously isn't one). So what I'd like to do is look into whether they have any valid legal claims.

Claim 1: Monopoly

AU's first point is that "Amazon's dominant position makes it a monopoly as a seller of books and a monopsony as a buyer of books." The U.S. Supreme Court in U.S. v. Grinnell Corp. (U.S. v. Grinnell Corp.) held that the test for monopoly control under Section 2 of the Sherman Act has two requirements "(1) the possession of monopoly power in the relevant market and (2) the willful acquisition or maintenance of that power as distinguished from growth or development as a consequence of a superior product, business acumen, or historic accident."

Relevant Market

The first question is "what is the relevant market?" If we look to the AU letter, they allege that Amazon has "unprecedented power over America's market for books." They also claim that Amazon has become "the largest publisher and distributor of new books in the world." I have no idea how they're defining new books and the U.S. Supreme Court can't grant relief for a market larger than the United States, so I'd rather focus on "America's market for books." They also note that "according to published figures, this one corporation now controls the sale of:
- More than 75 percent of the online sales of physical books.
- More than 65 percent of e-book sales.
- More than 40 percent of sales of new books.
- About 85 percent of e-book sales of self-published authors."
In their list of figures, it seems that they are alleging that "America's market for books" is made up of e-books and physical books. The other two figures they list would fall into those two categories. I don't know if they're trying to make the relevant market "America's market for books" or if they maintain that Amazon has two separate monopolies (one in e-book sales and one in physical book sales). Justice Sotomayor (who was still a Circuit judge at this point) gave clarification to what the courts should look for in defining a relevant market. In Todd v. Exxon Corp. (Todd v. Exxon Corp.), she held that "to survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, an alleged product market must bear a "rational relation to the methodology courts prescribe to define a market for antitrust purposes - analysis of the interchangeability of use or the cross-elasticity of demand," Gianna Enters. v. Miss World (Jersey) Ltd., 551 F. Supp. 1348, 1354 (S.D.N.Y. 1982), and it must be "plausible." Hack v. President & Fellows of Yale Coll., 237 F.3d 81, 86 (2d Cir. 2000)." She goes on to say that "cases in which dismissal on the pleadings is appropriate frequently involve either (1) failed attempts to limit a product market to a single brand, franchise, institution, or comparable entity that competes with potential substitutes or (2) failure even to attempt a plausible explanation as to why a market should be limited in a particular way." In other words, in order to continue with your case and not have it dismissed, you must allege in your complaint a relevant market that plausibly doesn't have interchangeability of use or cross-elasticity of demand with other products. In our case, e-books and physical books would have to be different enough that they couldn't be seen as reasonable substitutes for one another. There's some confusion as to what AU wants the relevant market to be. If they want to maintain that Amazon has a monopoly both in sales of e-books and sales of physical books (two distinct markets) then they would need to "attempt a plausible explanation as to why [the] market should be limited in [this] way." I see no discussion in their letter of the differences between e-books and physical books and no reason why they should be seen as different markets. AU even admits that their concern is for "America's market for books."

Monopoly Power

Now that we have AU's alleged relevant market, "America's market for books," we can look into whether Amazon has monopoly power in this market. A case that is perfectly on point is Bookhouse of Stuyvesant Plaza, Inc. v., Inc. (Bookhouse of Stuyvesant Plaza, Inc. v., Inc.). Bookhouse alleged in their complaint that Amazon controlled "60% of the U.S. e-book market." They also made claims that Amazon's market share of the print book market were similar. I'd like to go on a brief tangent related to the relevant market. The judge in Bookhouse also saw one of the problems I found with AU's letter, they didn't list enough differences to make it clear that these are two distinct markets. The judge noted that "without more detailed allegations or explanation, the Court cannot reasonably infer that these two markets simultaneously are so different that e-books and print books are not acceptable substitutes, and yet so similar that the Publishers' market share is the same in both markets." AU's letter does allege a different market share for print book sales, but the two numbers seem to be close enough that it should at least be an open question as to whether we're looking at a U.S. market for books or two markets - e-books and print books. AU has still not addressed the issue of whether e-books and print books are acceptable substitutes for one another.

When looking into Bookhouse's complaint that Amazon controlled 60% of the e-book market, the judge held that "even if plaintiffs had alleged a cognizable market, plaintiffs' only allegation suggesting that Amazon possesses monopoly power is that its market share is 60%. See First Am. Compl. ¶¶ 15, 20, 22. But the Second Circuit has held that “[a]bsent additional evidence, such as an ability to control prices or exclude competition,” even “a 64 percent market share is insufficient to infer monopoly power." PepsiCo, 315 F.3d at 109." Market share does seem to be AU's main argument that Amazon is a monopoly. They allege that Amazon has 65% of the e-book market and 75% of the print book market. If these two figures make up "America's market for books," then Amazon controls 48.75% of American's market for books. Absent "an ability to control prices or exclude competition," this is not enough to establish monopoly control over the market. Even taking their separate figures, 65% of the e-book market would be inadequate to imply monopoly control on its own. I'll address AU's predatory pricing issue later on, but I doubt AU's complaint would survive a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss on the issue of monopoly control under the first requirement listed in Grinnell above. AU would have an even more difficult time proving the second requirement, that Amazon didn't gain monopoly power "as a consequence of a superior product, business acumen, or historic accident."

The citation from PepsiCo (PepsiCo, Inc. v. Coca-Cola Co.) deserves a little more attention. In that case, the court held that "absent additional evidence, such as an ability to control prices or exclude competition, a 64 percent market share is insufficient to infer monopoly power. See Tops Mkts., 142 F.3d at 99 (holding that “a share between 50% and 70% can occasionally show monopoly power,” but only if other factors support the inference); ALCOA, 148 F.2d at 424 (L.Hand, J.) (expressing doubt that 64 percent market share is enough to constitute a monopoly).” Additionally, companies with market share as high as 74% have been found to lack monopoly power. See Tops Markets, Inc. v. Quality Markets, Inc..

Claim 2: Blocking Sales

AU's next issue is that "Amazon, to pressure publishers over the past 11 years, has blocked and curtailed the sale of millions of books by thousands of authors." Their next point seems to raise a similar issue "Amazon, during its dispute with Hachette in 2014, appears to have engaged in content control, selling some books but not others based on the author's prominence or the book's political leanings." Now I question whether either statement is true, but for the purposes of a 12(b)(6) motion, we assume that the facts alleged by the Plaintiff are true. In response to a similar claim, the judge in Bookhouse said, "in essence, plaintiffs complain that Amazon has not allowed them to sell e-books on Amazon's devices and apps. But no business has a “duty to aid competitors.”" The judge then cites the Supreme Court, noting that "[f]irms may acquire monopoly power by establishing an infrastructure that renders them uniquely suited to serve their customers. Compelling such firms to share the source of their advantage is in some tension with the underlying purpose of antitrust law, since it may lessen the incentive for the monopolist, the rival, or both to invest in those economically beneficial facilities." That pretty much sounds like the situation between Amazon and AU (most of whom are authors published by the Big 5, Amazon's rivals.)

Claim 3: Economic Duress

AU's next claim is that "Amazon has used its monopsony power, and its ability to threaten punishment, to extract an ever greater share of the total price of a book from publishers, which has resulted in less revenue to support midlist authors and certain kinds of books, effectively silencing many voices." Now if they're trying to bring a claim on behalf of midlist authors, I would argue that AU doesn't have standing unless those authors are members of AU and signed the letter. Basically you can't bring a claim if you weren't injured by the alleged actions of the Defendant. Aside from that point, this seems like a duress issue under contract law. Economic duress is governed by state law (so it varies), but I think the general points are nicely summed up in the Illinois case Alexander v. Standard Oil Co. (Alexander v. Standard Oil Co.). Alexander held that "economic duress is present where one is induced by a wrongful act of another to make a contract under circumstances which deprive him of the exercise of free will, and a contract executed under duress is voidable." Additionally, "duress does not exist where consent to an agreement is secured because of hard bargaining positions or the pressure of financial circumstances. Rather, the conduct of the party obtaining the advantage must be shown to be tainted with some degree of fraud or wrongdoing in order to have an agreement invalidated on the basis of duress." AU doesn't say what the "threaten[ed] punishment" was, but they note that the end result was "to extract an ever greater share of the total price of a book from publishers." I imagine the threatened punishment was simply the "pressure of financial circumstances" which does not constitute duress. We won't know though until AU makes their allegation specific and clear. I don't think any of the Big 5 entered into a contract with Amazon that they were forced into, but if there was fraud or wrongdoing involved, the remedy is to void the contact. I imagine none of the Big 5 want their contracts with Amazon voided, but they can make a duress argument in court if I'm wrong.

Claim 4: Predatory Pricing

AU's next claim is that "Amazon routinely sells many types of books below cost in order to drive less well-capitalized retailers - like Borders - out of business. This practice, known as "loss-leading," also harms readers by reducing the amount of revenue available for publishers to invest in new books." Their first sentence is a claim of predatory pricing. Their second sentence, that readers are being harmed, seems to assume that new books can only reach readers via publisher investments and that when this amount is reduced, readers will have reduced selection. I don't know why they're alleging this because Amazon still pays the publishers the full amount when they price under their cost. There is no reduction of revenue as far as I understand.

The Supreme Court in Cargill, Inc. v. Monfort of Colorado, Inc. (Cargill, Inc. v. Monfort of Colorado, Inc.) defined predatory pricing as "pricing below an appropriate measure of cost for the purpose of eliminating competitors in the short run and reducing competition in the long run." That's what AU is alleging here. They say that Amazon is engaging in predatory pricing to drive competitors like Borders out of business. The Supreme Court later found predatory pricing to have two requirements in Brooke Group Ltd. v. Brown and Williamson Tobacco Corp. (Brooke Group Ltd. v. Brown and Williamson Tobacco Corp.) These requirements are "(1) the prices complained of are below an appropriate measure of its rival's costs, and (2) that the competitor had a reasonable prospect or a "dangerous probability" of recouping its investment in the alleged scheme."

I don't think Amazon was targeting competitors with their below-cost pricing, but I think it could go either way. I agree that there is evidence that they priced below cost at some times, but I doubt they did it to drive Borders and Barnes and Noble out of business. Concerning his book pricing strategy, Jeff Bezos said in an interview (Business Insider Interview with Jeff Bezos), "Books are the competitive set for leisure time. It takes many hours to read a book. It’s a big commitment. If you narrow your field of view and only think about books competing against books, you make really bad decisions. What we really have to do, if we want a healthy culture of long-form reading, is to make books more accessible. Part of that is making them less expensive. Books, in my view, are too expensive. Thirty dollars for a book is too expensive. If I'm only competing against other $30 books, then you don’t get there. If you realize that you’re really competing against Candy Crush and everything else, then you start to say, “Gosh, maybe we should really work on reducing friction on long-form reading." That’s what Kindle has been about from the very beginning."

Let's give AU the benefit of the doubt. Let's say Amazon was targeting competitors with predatory pricing of books. Let's say AU could prove that "the prices complained of are below an appropriate measure of its rival's costs." They then have to prove the second element which is where I think their argument fails. They would have to prove that Amazon "had a reasonable prospect or a "dangerous probability" of recouping its investment in the alleged scheme." It is not enough to prove that a company engaged in predatory pricing. The Supreme Court noted in Brooke Group that "recoupment is the ultimate object of an unlawful predatory pricing scheme; it is the means by which a predator profits from predation. Without it, predatory pricing produces lower aggregate prices in the market, and consumer welfare is enhanced." I don't see how anyone can prove that Amazon plans on recouping profits when it engages in predatory pricing because Amazon as a company is willing to run on razor-thin margins. It reinvests what it makes in other acquisitions. Let's give AU the benefit of the doubt on this one as well and say that they could somehow prove this.

Beyond these requirements, the Supreme Court also held in Brooke Group that "if circumstances indicate that below-cost pricing could likely produce its intended effect on the target, there is still the further question whether it would likely injure competition in the relevant market. The plaintiff must demonstrate that there is a likelihood that the predatory scheme alleged would cause a rise in prices above a competitive level that would be sufficient to compensate for the amounts expended on the predation, including the time value of the money invested in it." So AU would have to prove that following Amazon's predatory pricing, Amazon would increase the price to recoup themselves for the losses they sustained. It's unlikely that they can prove that because Amazon has shown no sign that they would do something like that. They win by keeping prices at a sustained low, they don't increase them "above a competitive level" to recoup their losses. Amazon is comfortable taking losses.

Claim 5: Failure to aid competitors

AU's next allegation is that "Amazon routinely uses its market power to steer readers toward its own books and away from books published by other companies." As I've already noted above in Bookhouse, "no business has a “duty to aid competitors.”" I'll just leave it at that.

Claim 6: Pricing terms with self-published authors

AU's final claim (before some appeals to emotion and claims that Amazon should, for some reason, be regulated as a utility or means of communication), is that "Amazon dictates pricing to self-published authors, requiring them to price their books within a specific range or be subjected to a 50 percent cut in royalties." I mentioned standing briefly in an earlier claim. AU definitely lacks standing to make any claim on behalf of self-published authors.

To bring a claim, a plaintiff must have standing. This was defined in Doe v. Tangipahoa Parish School Bd. (Doe v. Tangipahoa Parish School Bd.) as having three requirements. The court said, "under Article III of the Constitution federal courts have the power to resolve only “cases” and “controversies.” This constitutional limitation has manifested itself in the requirement that a plaintiff have standing, which requires a showing of (1) an injury in fact, (2) causation, and (3) redressibility." On a claim that Amazon dictates terms to self-published authors, none of the signatories of the AU letter have an injury in fact because none of them are self-published authors. They lack standing for failure to meet the first requirement.


I didn't analyze everything in the letter in depth. I'm more interested in seeing how the law basically applies to the things that AU alleged. As I said earlier, I welcome any comments that are on point with what I discussed here. Thanks for taking the time to read my opinion on this matter.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Dollar Shave Club: A Review of Additional Products

Shortly after I posted my blog on how the Dollar Shave Club razor blades stack up against the Gillette Mach 3 razors, DSC contacted me and offered to send me some of their products to try out. I've had somewhere around 9 months to try those products out and here's my review. The package DSC sent me had a DSC t-shirt and three products: One-Wipe Charlies, Dr. Carver's Shave Butter, and Dr. Carver's Post Shave Moisturizer.

One-Wipe Charlies
DSC sent me a 40-pack of these minty wipes. Initially I wasn't really sure what to do with these... because I have toilet paper. I didn't use them as a toilet paper substitute (and let's face it... you don't want to read a crappy review like that :-P). I ended up using them for my hands (after going fishing usually). I also used them to clean up my hands after a plate of ribs a couple of times. They worked great for both and they definitely smell nice.You can get more info from DSC about this product here.

Dr. Carver's Shave Butter
After months of using DSC's Shave Butter, I can say that it is better than the Gillette shaving cream I'm used to. Not by a whole lot though. They're pretty comparable. The Shave Butter usually leads to a smoother, closer shave. I won't be reordering Shave Butter any time soon because I was given a lot of shave gel as a gift a while back and that's stalling my decision. When I do ultimately decide, it's going to come down to price. The 6 oz tube of Shave Butter I used is $8 for 6 oz. You can get more info from DSC about this product here.

Dr. Carver's Post Shave Moisturizer
This stuff is great for people who shave their head. When you apply it after shaving, it has a cooling, healing effect. I only use a little each time I shave so I still have some of this left. I will likely be reordering this when I run out. It's great for razor burn or just to give you a cool feeling for a while after you finish shaving. It definitely has my recommendation. You can get more info from DSC about this product here.

If you think you'd like to start with Dollar Shave Club, please use this link to join because I get a small credit towards my plan when I refer people. They've definitely saved me money over the past 9 months.

Update 9/12/15 It was pointed out to me that a company called DORCO makes the razor blades for DSC and you can get the razors directly from them for a bit less through Amazon ($2.10 per razor instead of $2.25). You can check DORCO's razors out on Amazon  by clicking this link.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Solar Power: Save on Charging Mobile Devices

Over the past few months, I've watched my power bill slowly go up month after month. I decided last week that I wanted to find a way to start it back on a descent. So I looked into a bunch of things, among them solar power. I figured there had to be a cost-effective way to charge mobile devices through solar power. I think I was right, but initial testing also showed me that it may take forever (especially when the sun doesn't want to contribute). I ordered a 14 W Solar Panel charger made by Anker. Here's a link to the solar panel charger on Amazon so you can check it out. Here's what it looks like:

On the right hand side is a pocket where you can store your devices so they don't get incinerated by the sun if you're outside. It has a little box with two USB ports:

When you plug a device into the USB port (especially when it's cloudy outside or you don't have good sunlight where the charger is), the device may not recognize that it's charging. My iPad Air 2 recognized that something was plugged in, but the charging icon didn't come up. I decided to test the charger on my iPad Air 2 before I went to work yesterday. I plugged it in at noon and checked it when I got home at around 10:30 pm. The charger fits pretty nicely in my window:

So I was gone all day and let my iPad Air 2 charge. This window wasn't getting a crazy amount of sun yesterday (and it isn't really today either, I should have bought one of these and tried it out a few months ago). Still, it charged my iPad Air 2 about 6% while I was gone. That's not too bad for a tablet that has a massive battery in way less than ideal conditions for the solar charger. (I tried the solar charger a second time on a very cloudy day with pretty much no sun. It charged the iPad Air 2 about 2% while I was gone. That should be the minimum it can do in a day.)

I've decided that I'm going to order an external battery from Anker and use the solar panel to charge that in a different window that gets more sunlight. I can then use the battery to charge all of my mobile devices at night (and it'll be a lot quicker). I looked into it and the Anker solar charger can only charge external batteries as large as this one (it's an Anker 16000 mAh battery). So that's what I ordered. It'll be here in a few days. All things considered, I think I'll ultimately save some money on my power bill next month and in the following months.

UPDATE: The battery arrived. Ultimately, my solar panel was able to charge my iPad Air 2 about 11% over three cloudy days plugged in for about 9 hours of cloudy sunlight per day. The battery came about half charged with two blue lights that would blink on and off. After a couple of days, a third light is now blinking (there are four lights total). Here's what it looks like plugged in to the solar panel:

The battery, when fully charged, should be able to charge my iPhone 5 around 6x or my iPad Air 2 around 1.3x. Here's some closer shots of the battery:

Once again, if you'd like to check out the battery on Amazon, here's the link: Anker 16000 mAh battery. It has two USB ports to charge up to two devices at once.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Major Demons: Chapter 1

I finally have some time to write again. Tonight I started Major Demons with some rough ideas and Pandora tunes. I made it through the end of the first chapter. Thank you for those of you who have been patiently waiting. If you enjoy the series and have not done so yet, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. Here's the unedited first chapter of Major Demons.


This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are a product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2015 by Randall J. Morris

All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the author except for the use of brief quotations in critical articles or book reviews.


Hunting nephilim with a pregnant Lilith was driving Leech insane. After their brief meeting with the three Archangels, they had split into three groups of two. Uriel had gone with Raphael, Shadow with Gabriel, and Leech with Lilith.
Leech sighed and walked back to Lilith’s tent.
“Do you still think I’m beautiful?”
“Of course.”
“Seriously? I’m really fat.”
“You’re pregnant. That doesn’t mean you stopped being hot.”
Lilith grinned at him.
“Right answer. So I’m hot enough for you to do a favor for me?”
“Lily, we’re hunting nephilim… I don’t really have time to…”
“You lied to me! You don’t think I’m hot anymore!”
Leech sighed.
“What’s the favor? What are you craving this time?”
“I would like the soul of a human who was very good for most of their life and then turned evil in old age and went to Hell. That should deal with this craving.”
“Raven is already getting you a new hairbrush because the old one wasn’t good enough. So I guess I’ll send Gangrene?”
“Yes. Oh and I want my pony.”
“Keshi is in Hell. You can’t ride her when you’re pregnant.”
“I just want her up here.”
“Because you haven’t been paying enough attention to me and Keshi won’t leave me to hunt nephilim!”
Lilith started to cry. Leech approached to comfort her. When he was within range, she spun off her bed and kicked him hard in the stomach.
“Ow! Lily you need to stop being insane! I’ve stopped every time you said you wanted more time with me. I doubt we’re even on that nephilim’s trail anymore. I haven’t seen any evidence that he went this way for days.”
“Don’t blame me. Blame your daughter.”
Leech’s grinned widely and he kneeled in front of Lilith and put his hand on her belly.
“So it’s a girl?”
“Well I’m not sure. It could be your son. Either way, I’m not responsible for any of this.”
Leech laughed.
“I’ll send Gangrene. Anything else before I send him?”
“Nope. Send Gangrene and then don’t come back in here until you have all of my stuff!”
“So I’m not spending enough time with you… but I can’t come in here unless I have your stuff?”
“And in Lily-land… that doesn’t violate… oh… I dunno… logic and common sense.”
Lilith shrieked like a harpy, picked up a small mirror from her bedside table and threw it at Leech. Leech barely made it out of the tent in time. Gangrene was grinning at him.
“You’re not gonna think it’s so funny when I tell you what she wants now.”
Gangrene’s grin vanished from his face.
“If I ever decide to impregnate Raven, I want you to remind me of this. Deal?”
“We’ll see if I let you live that long. Now get back down to Hell and bring back her horse and a human soul that was good for most of its life and then turned evil.”
Gangrene sighed and turned to leave.
“Oh and Gangrene… one more thing.”
“If I catch you smirking at my discomfort again, I will demote you to be an errand boy permanently.”
Gangrene turned and started back towards Hell, mumbling about how insane the daughters of Vixen were.

Leech cautiously made his way back into Lilith’s tent.
“Do you have my stuff?”
“No, but I have a gift for you.”
Lilith thought about throwing him out again but decided to hear him out. Leech pulled a soft, dark green blanket from behind his back. Lilith raised an eyebrow.
“What the hell is that?”
“Well it’s just…”
“Just what?”
“Let me finish!”
Silence followed Leech’s outburst.
“It’s the blanket I was wrapped in as a baby. I was hoping that we could wrap our kid in it when it’s born. Boy. Girl. I don’t really care. I’m just glad we’re having one.”
Lilith’s eyes started to tear up.
“Oh I’m sorry, Leech. That’s a beautiful thought.”
She wiped her eyes and then laughed.
“I’ll bet you were a cute baby.”
“The absolute cutest.”
Leech tossed her the dark green blanket and Lilith ran it through her hands.
“It’s so soft. Call Gangrene back, Leech. I don’t need that other stuff. I just want you. That’s all I need. Oh and the hairbrush. Don’t call Raven back. Just Gangrene.”
“Done. I’ll call Gangrene back and then I’m coming back in here for you. You’re still really hot and we’re long overdue for some make out time.”
Lilith giggled.
“Hurry back then.”
Leech left the tent and saw Gangrene leaning on his spear.
“So it worked?”
“It did. Where did you find a dark green blanket anyways?”
“It was draped over my horse under the saddle. Nicely played, General Leech.”
“You should be taking notes. It’s gonna be this bad when Raven has a baby. You need to be on top of your game.”
Gangrene grinned.
“Noted. Should I instruct the armies to keep searching?”
“No. We’re done for the night. We’ll start back up tomorrow.”

When Leech entered Lilith’s tent again, he saw that Raven had returned and was brushing her hair.
“I totally understand, Lily. That last hairbrush was unbearable. This one is much better.”
“It really is. Now get out. Leech is back.”
Raven looked slightly offended, slammed the brush down on the table next to Lilith’s bed, and stormed out.
“Did they find anything new from the nephilim?”
“Nope. We still don’t even know who it is. There’s no need to worry about that right now though.”
Lilith grinned at him mischievously.
“You’re right. Come here, leechy face.”
Leech leaned in and kissed her. Lilith cried out.
“What is it? Is the baby coming? Raven, get in here! The baby is coming!”
Lilith grabbed Leech’s hand and shook her head.
“It’s not that.”
Raven entered the tent with an extra pillow and blankets, ready to play midwife.
“False alarm, Raven. You can leave.”
Raven threw the blankets on the ground and flipped them off. She turned and left.
“What was that then?”
“It’s one of the nephilim. I can sense it. I feel this sometimes when Shadow is around. There’s a nephilim stalking us.”

As Lilith was uncertain of the exact location, Leech teleported in the direction she had pointed. After a few minutes of running, he saw a creature kneeling in the sand on a beach as the waves crashed in around it. The creature wore a black, hooded robe. It stood and turned to face Leech.
“Leech of the underworld. Abandon the nephilim girl in your camp and I will spare the demon armies that travel with you.”
“Who the fuck are you to talk to me like that?”
The nephilim grinned.
“My name is Thanatos. My brother and I once saved the nephilim Lilith from death. It was only after we did so that our father revealed to us that she is our half-sister. We thought we were sent to aid Shadow.”
“There’s no way in hell you’re taking her with you.”
“Ah… but we’re not in Hell… are we?”
Leech pulled the guns from his belt and quickly fired off a shot from each. The bullets were engulfed by the sand where Thanatos had been standing.
“Where are you hiding, Thanatos? You’re only delaying the inevitable. I will slay you and you will fade into nothing more than a memory.”
Though Leech couldn’t see him, he could hear Thanatos’s response.
“Much talk. Talking will win you nothing. All the same, the woman goes with me to my father’s house. I go to take her now and there’s nothing you can do to stop me.”
Leech immediately teleported to Lilith’s tent and saw Thanatos standing over a sleeping Lilith. Leech took up his scythe and slashed it across the back of Thanatos. Thanatos did not bleed, but turned to face Leech and fell on his knees. His eyes started to glow white.
“My father has misled me once again. While I have brought thousands to their death, I could not see my own demise. I can see yours though, Leech. I was sent here to deliver that message. If you continue to pursue the nephilim, one of them will strike you down. Your death is fast approaching. This is my final prediction.”
The robe of Thanatos fell to the earth, now devoid of its former occupant.