Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Another Combatant

Day before yesterday (Monday), I blogged about the book price war going on between Amazon and Wal-Mart. Another party has entered into the fight. Target is now offering “seven highly anticipated hardcover books available for pre-order on its Web site” for $8.99, matching Wal-Mart’s Monday’s price. (On Tuesday, Wal-Mart dropped another penny to $8.98, but Target did not follow.) According to the New York Times, a spokesperson for Target said, “Right now, we’re sticking with $8.99.”

The Wall Street Journal seems to feel that the price war now dropping by pennies, instead of dollars indicates “no further cuts.” The Journal also said:
The publishing industry is also watching warily to see if the price war will have lasting impact on book pricing and the contracts that publisher sign with authors. What is still unclear is whether this is a short-term promotion on Walmart's part, or whether Walmart.com intends to use cheap books to challenge Amazon as the Web's leading retailer.
In case you’re wondering why publishers and booksellers don’t just lower their prices and go head to head with Amazon, Wal-Mart and Target, Michael Norris, a consultant with Simba Information, which provides research and advice to publishers, noted, (according to the New York Times)
the price war could be particularly damaging to the publishing industry and booksellers because the retailers who were currently slashing prices “don’t need to sell books in order to stay in business” and therefore can sell the books at a loss.
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22 comments:

  1. No wonder readers complain self-published books too expensive, as compared to these bargains.

    Steamy Darcy

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  2. I guess that would be one time when getting a bargain isn't really getting a bargain then hey.

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  3. This worries me because I don't want the buyers from those businesses dictating what gets published. I won't be buying any of the cheap books.

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  4. I don't get the penny thing. I once knew a gas station owner who, in the morning before opening up, would drive around the neighborhood and check out every other gas station's prices. Then, he would set his price a penny below the lowest. Personally, if its a penny, I'm going for ease of shopping instead.

    But this comment is off topic, sorry.

    It is going to be interesting to see how this all plays out. And I'm with Bermudaonion, now that I'm conscious of it, I'll go with higher priced book just on principle.

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  5. I'm on the fence about this. I'd rather go to an independent bookseller, but there aren't any convenient to me right now. My son is reading books that are really popular with the teen set, and the library can't afford to keep up with demand for the requests.

    So I needed to get him 2 books on Monday. I got one at Borders with a 30% off coupon, and one...at Target. The Target book was marked about 40% off. As an author, this makes me really leery. As a consumer, I couldn't pass it up.

    Elizabeth
    Mystery Writing is Murder

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  6. It's good at least that these commercial giants see books as something valuable, worth the battle. Really interesting.

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  7. Did any of you see the article about an independent Book seller cancelling his publisher order and intending to then BUY their books from Wal-Mart and Amazon to sell, so Wal-mart takes the loss and he can afford to sell the books for barely more. I thought that was rather a brilliant way to nip this in the bud.

    I think publishers losing orders would respond, and Wal-Mart will eventually see the whole thing as infeasible. I hope he can get enough co-conspirators on board, because I ALSO don't want Wal-Mart dictating what is available to readers.

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  8. Eeew. I guess I'm with Elizabeth on this one. As a consumer, I might purchase highly discounted books. As an author, it's not a pretty picture.
    karen

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  9. I'm with Elizabeth and Karen. While, as a writer, I hate seen prices slashed in discount bins and warehouse stores, it sometimes is necessary to purchase books at a lower cost. Especially if you're buying a lot of books for gifts or if you're strapped for cash. Sticky situation. Personally, I do all I can to buy from a bookstore. If there was a local independent around, I'd be buying from them!

    Jen

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  10. I'm with Bermudaonion. This is worrisome. Jeremiah Healey has argued for a couple of years that so many books are sold through Walmart, Sam's and Costco that the big box stores are in a position to dictate what gets published. Already Walmart has restrictions on what appears on the covers and publishers are falling into line. What happens if Walmart decides a book is too controversial to sell? Will it get published?

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  11. This worries me that readers will wait to see what these 3 big sellers are going to offer each month before even thinking about venturing into a bookstore - which probably means even more bookstores will be closing their doors.

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  12. Yesterday I read where Sears had joined the fray, but not by discounting books. If you buy one of these discounted books and send a copy of the receipt to Sears, they will send you a coupon for the sales price of the book that you can use at Sears.com. I don't think we've seen the end of this yet.

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  13. I like Watery Tarts comment. I think it's a fantastic idea! If someone has their book with one of these battling companies, take the benefit and turn it into a profit for the author.

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  14. Oh Mark, you are so right. I can see the Walmart censors with pens at the ready... clean music, clean books...OH heck, lets just paint everything beige.

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  15. Carol made an interesting point about Sears. Sheesh, it just seems like it'll continue snowballing. I guess my question, aimed at an author's career, is what's more important? Less books sold at a higher price, or more books sold at deep discount? Wouldn't it all come out in the wash, somehow?

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  16. As a writer, one has to hope that this is all just a short-term marketing technique and not a true indicator of sales methods. However, in this still-worrisome economy, most consumers are going for the cheapest price. It's a book; it's a discretionary purchase.

    Elspeth

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  17. I read an interesting post about this topic on another blog. Walmart has accepted that they will make a loss on these books. it doesn't matter since they make profit elsewhere. This is not the case for bookstores. If Walmart can continue for any lengthy period of time, they will push bookstores out of business. When this happens Walmart will control the industry. THEY will dictate the price books are bought from the publisher as they will be the only outlet. THEY will decide what gets sold- therefore what publishers publish and what they can afford to pay writers.

    Also on that same blog, someone left an anonymous comment saying that he works at a place that supplies stuff to Walmart. Whatever the thing is he makes, they make crappy ones that they sell to Walmart and good ones they sell to everyone else. That also does not bode well.

    I think this price war has bigger implications then we are realising. If I lived there, I'd be talking about writers organising for some serious protest.

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  18. I hate Walmart for more than this reason. They are bullies in the marketplace, so I don't shop there. The overall look, tone, and feel of their stores is not for me.

    But I love Target, I've been buying books there for years. With the advent of the e-book, and huge discount stores getting into the book business, publishing as we know it is in BIG trouble. I don't know what the answer is, but if anyone gets poked in the eye it will be the writer's.

    Writers are undervalued. Look at Hollywood, everyone gets made a big deal of except for the people that provide the directors and actors with the words that tell the story.

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  19. Wow! Who knew? I'm surprised though with Walmart entering the fray. Their books are always less expensive than anywhere else. Honestly, I buy majority of my books from the store, because of price and selection, and not a lot of book stores in our area. Uh, there's one bookstore.

    Right now, we're approaching the Christmas season, so I'm not surprised to see Walmart and Target reaching out to grab the market. What I didn't know, is they are attempting to go head to head with Amazon.

    My thoughts? Too much slashing on the prices would damage future contracts and product put out by major publishers. It would affect the authors too. They are the ones that provide the stories. As it is, when you factor in the time to write the story, the mulitude of edits to be done, profit margins aren't that big, unless you're Dan Brown.

    Thanks for sharing this Helen!

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  20. It seems a bit like Amazon is trying to rule the roost. With e-readers and digital book rights, they're going up against Google, which is not easy. They have a variety of things they sell, so they can go head to head with the box stores like Target and Wal-Mart on price and not be hurt as much as Target and Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart may be big enough to go toe-to-toe for a while; I'm not sure about Target. Google and Amazon seem to be trying to become mega-controllers. And, in the end, it most likely will be the bookstores and writers who are hurt, if this keeps up. (IMO)

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  21. I agree with you, Helen: the losers will be the independent booksellers and the writers. In the long run, the reading public will lose as well due to a diminution in the variety of new new publications.

    If they are going for volume that they can sell for less, they'll have to give up variety and originality. (Want an example? Network TV.)

    Sigh. Every time I start to think about giving up on self-publishing and going the traditional route, I read stories like this and think maybe I'm on the right track.

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  22. I might be missing something here, but I'm not sure I see how this price war will affect what is accepted for publication. But then it is late and my brain is tired. :-)

    One thing is for sure. The whole state of the publishing business is in flux and we just have to hang on to the side of the boat until the storm settles. And keep writing, of course.

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