Consumers who enjoy reading, but don’t have time to actually sit down and dive into a book, are increasingly turning to audiobooks. However, one of the top sellers of this kind of media is now facing a class action over alleged false advertising practices and “bait-and-switch tactics.”
Audible, an audiobook seller owned by Amazon.com, is being sued by one of its former subscribers after his earned audiobook credits supposedly expired. Plaintiff Grant McKee says he paid a monthly fee to earn those credits and “believed defendants’ representations that ‘one credit equals one audiobook,’ that audiobook credits would ‘never expire,’ and that a member can cancel any time with ‘no strings attached,’” the lawsuit states.
However, the complaint goes on to say that the exact opposite was true. “Like defendants’ other misrepresentations concealing key facts about Audible’s plans, Audible uses the label of ‘credit’ to conceal what is otherwise an illegal gift card scheme,” McKee says in his complaint.
McKee signed up for an Audible trial membership back in June, 2016 and eventually converted to a $14.95 “Gold Monthly” membership that allowed him to earn a credit each month to buy a free audiobook – basically as a sort of prepaid gift certificate or gift card. In December, he canceled his membership but still had two unredeemed credits that he intended to use. However, he found out after canceling the membership that it wasn’t possible.
“Upon canceling his membership plan, he learned that — contrary to Audible’s and Amazon’s representations — the credits he had purchased but not yet redeemed had automatically and immediately expired and that, due to his cancellation, he had forfeited the money he paid for the credits without receiving audiobooks,” the lawsuit states.
McKee was flummoxed by the turn of events and pointed to company promises that credits never expired and that there were “no strings attached” when it came canceling an account. But after reading the fine print of the company’s agreement, he discovered a different narrative.
The agreement explains that credits do, in fact, expire in some circumstances. For example, if customers reach their rollover limit for their membership plan, then older credits are discarded and new ones take their place. In McKee’s case, it was the cancellation of his membership that allegedly triggered the credit purge.
“Based on Audible’s cancellation policy, all prepaid credits are capable of expiring or being forfeited immediately after being purchased. For example, the credits that expired or were forfeited when Mr. Mckee canceled his plan had been purchased approximately one week and six weeks before,” the suit states.
Charging without consent
The suit also alleges that Audible and Amazon cheat customers in the way that they charge credit cards. It states that if a member’s credit card is declined for any reason, then the companies charge the monthly membership fee, without consent, to any credit card or payment method linked to member’s Amazon account.
“According to Audible and Amazon (and possibly many other Amazon subsidiaries and affiliates), any credit cards stored on an Amazon account are fair game,” the complaint reads. “This results in a modern form of conversion that is unlawful nationwide and that affects unsuspecting consumers like plaintiff without notice.”
McKee’s attorney, Jamin Soderstrom, has not yet stated how much the class action could claim in damages; however, he has stated that meeting the $5 million threshold for a federal class action is well within the realm of possibility. “It’s a very reasonable estimate to say it exceeds $5 million and probably greatly exceeds,” he said.
What to do
Editor's note: This story is about a class-action lawsuit. If you are among the class of consumers described in the suit, you may eventually be eligible to participate in whatever compensation the court awards, if any. Unlike what many people think, you do not "join" a class action -- you are either in the class covered by the action or you are not.
Often, consumers included in an award do not need to take any action, as the defendant is required to contact them directly. In other cases, the court and the attorneys who brought the case will issue instructions when the case is settled.
Please see our Class Action Guide for more information.