Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Good, the Bad, and the Really Cheap Books


I recently heard a segment on NPR about some pretty ugly price wars on upcoming best-sellers by three huge online retailers: Amazon, Walmart, and Target.

Here’s the deal: Walmart, in an attempt to compete with Amazon, decided to cut its online pre-order prices of upcoming best-sellers to only $10. Amazon then immediately followed suit and cut their prices to $10 as well. Then Walmart dropped it to $9. Then Amazon did the same. Then Walmart dropped it to $8.99. THEN, Target joined in and dropped it to $8.99, too. Then Walmart dropped it to one more penny to $8.98.
Publishers are angry, as you can imagine. Indie bookstores are angry, because they can’t compete with those prices. Publishers fear this is the beginning of a trend, as consumers will come to expect these low prices and the business of publishing will be forever changed. Some critics believe this is the beginning of the end for book publishers, as prices are cut on the ten or so titles a year that keep publishing companies afloat. And despite James Patterson being a money-maker, he’s actually AGAINST this trend, because it could go in the direction of film, where pricing ultimately affects what is produced.
And now the American Booksellers Association is getting into the mix by asking the Justice Department to investigate what they call “predatory pricing” by these three retailers.
I find myself pretty split between sides. On the one hand, I am generally behind publishers 100%, because I hate eBooks and I never want physical copies of books to disappear. Also, I don’t ever read the Patterson-type bestsellers, but if those don’t sell a lot, publishers aren’t going to have the money to publish the books I do read. Face it. The Dan Browns and Nicholas Sparkses of the publishing world are so lucrative that they pretty much fund publication of everything else in a publishing house. How profitable do you think literary fiction is [unless it wins the Pulitzer or National Book Award, of course]?
On the other hand, I’m broke and therefore cheap. For example, a Walmart is being built here in NYC at Union Square where the Circuit City and Virgin Megastore used to be (both of which have gone bankrupt and closed in the past year). Some may complain about how Walmart is a corporate monstrosity that treats its employees poorly. But, I’m going to choose to pay 30 cents per roll of toilet paper at Walmart rather than over a dollar per roll at the bodega or Duane Reade down the street. Likewise, charging $35.00 for a new book (as Ted Kennedy’s autobiography is priced) is absolutely ridiculous. Add tax and that’s around $40! I could go see three movies in an over-priced Manhattan theater for that! I would think lower prices from the publisher would inspire more individuals to buy the book rather than check them out at the library, so maybe the publishers are just angry they didn’t think of this first.
Are you outraged? Worried? Or heading to to pre-order your copy of Going Rogue (ha)?


J.T. Oldfield said…

I admit, I do often use Amazon or Barnes and Nobles (for new release hardback), but I try to use my local indies, too. If I were made of money, I'd use Indies exclusively.

Thanks for the summary!

Salvatore said…

This does seem like a problem. Hardcovers may certainly be overpriced, but to charge at this low rate seems ridiculous and a way for stores to make sure they make particular numbers this holiday season. Someone has to be eating the rest of the cost though…

Perhaps as long as this is in pre-orders this might be ok (so that it isn't seen in stores), but even so I think it may start a bad precedent.

On the other side, publishers should not be decreasing quality of paper and jacket design and yet have hardcovers remain the same price, or go higher in some cases. I'd like there to be several reasons why I'm spending $25+.

Dreamybee said…

I will probably continue to go to my local library and ante up my $7.50 late fee every few weeks.

AngelitaBonita said…

I have to say that I hate Walmart. Yes yes the prices are ridiculously cheap but they make it so hard for the other companies and smaller local stores to compete. I am all about the little guy.

And i get it, I am a poor kid too. I barely make it paycheck to paycheck but I still don't shop at Walmart because they'll have all the power and take over the world!!!

PS Local libraries are an amazing structure that I have recently rediscovered and get pretty lucky with the massive selection of books to choose from. 🙂

Kari said…

Oh, I'm with you. I'm all about the little guy, but in NYC, that "little guy" jacks his prices up to unreasonable amounts. If I was back home in the south, I'd buy my cereal elsewhere, but $6.59 for a box of Honey Bunches of Oats at the bodega is just RIDICULOUS!!!!

I am constantly amazed by how many people don't know about all that public libraries can offer, like the movies or music or just requesting items from another branch!

nat @book, line, and sinker said…

i understand why people shop at walmart but personally, i prefer to avoid it at all costs. i buy books at used bookshops, flea markets, and library book sales to save money–that or borrow them from the library. i used to spend $300-400 a year on new books–two or three new hardcovers a month–but i'd rather use that money to travel.

i'm not sure what will come of this pricing war but hope i don't live to see the day that physical books go the way of the 8-track.