The complaint says the big chains use their massive size to get deals not offered to smaller bookstores.
The latest offering from independent booksellers can be found on the court's shelves -- a lawsuit claiming the big chains use their clout with publishers to get preferential treatment.
The American Booksellers Assn., a trade group representing independent booksellers, accused Barnes & Noble Inc. and Borders Group Inc. of soliciting special discounts on both large and small orders, and threatening large returns to obtain extra discounts.
Borders opened an outlet in downtown Lawrence late last year. The failures of two independent Lawrence booksellers have been blamed on its presence.
``People talk a lot about how competition is good,'' said Pat Kehde, owner of The Raven bookstore in downtown Lawrence, ``but if it's not a level playing field, then we're not talking about fair competition.''
The antitrust lawsuit filed late Tuesday in U.S. District Court claims the chains threaten the survival of independent bookstores, especially in California where both chains have focused their expansion.
Barnes & Noble declined to comment, but said in a prepared statement that it follows ``accepted industry practices in all of its business dealings.'' Borders, which also operates Waldenbooks, said it complied with trade regulation laws.
Independent booksellers say they are being priced out of the market.
``Much is at stake in the struggle for the survival of the independent bookstores,'' said Clark Kepler, owner of Kepler's Books & Magazines in Menlo Park. ``The fight is about preserving what America is able to read.''
The association said the chain stores' actions violated a federal antitrust law, the Robinson-Patman Act, which was passed in the 1930s to protect small and independent retailers from unfair competition by chain stores.
The ABA represents about 3,500 independents. Barnes & Nobles and Borders each have more than 1,000 stores that are often much bigger in size.
According to ABA figures of a year ago, the two chains netted more than 40 percent of sales nationwide in 1996, up from 36 percent the year before.
Meanwhile, in the previous four years, more than 150 independent stores have closed down.