Sunday, October 18, 2009

A Bystander in the Book Wars (Ultra Cheap Books, Part 2)

Tis the season of $8.99 books apparently. Are we caught in the crossfire? Instead of opening a bookstore, should I have gone back for a certificate in financial planning (it was another option) or interior decorating (I received a compliment yesterday on the color we chose to paint our laminate bookcase)?

If this new price point is a money loser for publishers, aren't they going to do anything they can to avoid it? Maybe we won't move further towards bestseller domination, because publishers aren't going to want to hit that Walmart sweet spot, where losing money for suppliers is the name of the game. If you've read the various Walmart books on how suppliers are treated, you know that many, certainly not all, suppliers wind up losers in various ways.

Can you imagine publisher meetings where they say, "We can do this for a reasonable price, and sell a reasonable amount of copies, and make a reasonable amount of money, but it will be offbeat enough to avoid the mainstream price wars." Maybe that's my cold medication talking.

You know, this doesn't really have to happen. Prices are suggested, but in other industries, there are minimums. Some of our sideline suppliers won't let us sell an item below a certain price, and other won't let us advertise a lower price. Distribution is threatened if we undercut. I believe upmarket cosmetics companies continue to do this as well (I don't know on a practical level--we've decided to stay out of the moisterizer market, for now). And many brands simply won't allow Walmart and Target and Kohl's to carry them. I'm sure someone at the American Booksellers Association would explain to me why this can't happen.

Book publishing is slightly different because the mass merchandisers (Walmart, Target, Costco) buy books through intermediaries. Amazon mostly buys direct and often supposedly buys nonreturnable--we're not exactly sure what happens to the leftovers.

But regarding the mass merchants, maybe a publisher looks at the numbers (returns consistently over 50%, I'm told) and decides it's not worth it to be in that channel. I know sometimes publishers make the decision for a particular book, but maybe it's time for some upmarket lines to disappear from that channel altogether. I'm not telling folks what to do--it's their business, not mine.

The whole thing reminds me of the drug trade somehow, and I feel like some Joe caught in a shootout. I'm currently hiding in an alley down the block, but with all those flying bullets, I'm getting a little nervous.

1 comment:

Mike said...

I wonder if Target will get involved in these price wars. They seem to carry more titles that would compete with Independent bookstores, though most of them are trade paperbacks, so maybe they wouldn't slash prices as much.