Saturday, October 17, 2009

Walmart-Amazon Price War Hopes to Shake up the Book Market--Oh, Goodie!

I'm sure everybody is talking about the battle between Wal-Mart and Amazon over low-price domination for on-line books. Here's the article in today's New York Times. After Amazon has set the default price at a money-losing $9.99 for ebooks, could hard-copy books be much behind?

I don't need to catch anybody up on this, do I? Wal-Mart (or is it now Walmart? I think NYT has to change their style sheet) doesn't like that Amazon is considered the Walmart of the web. Walmart wants to be the Walmart of the web. So they throw out a $10 price for a bunch of new hardcovers. That goes to $9. Now it's $8.99.

The actual fight for now is over ten new books--Stephen King, James Patterson, John Grisham, J. D. Robb, Michael Crichton, Jim Butcher, Linda Howard, Dean Koontz, Sarah Palin, and Barbara Kingsolver. Is this going to affect everybody else's sales? Absolutely. Though for most of these authors, my sales are minimal (either already lost to other outlets or not of interest to the customer base who is still supporting the bookstore), I expected to sell a good amount of Kingsolver. But what happens when this expands to 100 books a month? What happens when it's every big new release? How would this have affected our sales of Dan Brown?

The publishers have been saying that this price point will destroy the industry. Right now Amazon and Walmart are taking a loss on each title, but at least with ebooks, there's some thought that some publishers are being forced to change their selling price to accomodate the new $10 model. To my knowledge, it's not being offered to indies on the new Symptio cards in development.

"What this has done is accentuate the trend towards bestsellers dominating the market," was the quote from Bill Petrocelli. I beg to differ for now. As this is mostly genre fiction, it's going to make it harder for new romantic suspense or military thriller authors to break out if a certain amount of the populace fills their gut on $10 novels. And for Barbara Kingsolver, it will pull business from us, but really only from people who were going to buy the Kingsolver. I don't think someone's going to think, I was going to buy Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall (we're still waiting for copies and taking holds, please call or email us). but now that Kingsolver's so cheap, I'm going to read her instead.

And honestly, she's a bit tainted by the whole thing, not just because of the folks fighting over her, but by the company she's keeping. I'm sure all you other authors are wonderful, but none of you were planning to ever visit me at Boswell, so I need not spare your feelings--you're now officially bargain authors (heck, you're already at a bargain book price point), and you're on sale in virtual aisle seven.

1 comment:

PK said...

Right on target, Daniel. This post frames the reckless actions of Walmart and Amazon perfectly -- and of the publishers, agents, and authors who have not only allowed, but encouraged, the devaluation of their books to happen. Let the big dogs duke it out and bring down the whole blasted edifice, while you and your peers survive and thrive, serving your community of committed book lovers.