Monday, October 19, 2009

Clash of the Titans

Wal-Mart and Amazon have declared war by offering books for sale well below wholesale prices. You'd think that the small retail store would be wise to duck for cover.

Looking for the latest John Grisham book (Ford County, out Nov. 3)? The book retails for $24 and you can pre-order it online from both companies for a paltry $9. Since the average mom-and-pop bookstore pays approximately $15 for the same book (plus shipping), they could be left out in the cold. The forthcoming James Patterson I, Alex Cross book priced at $27.99 is available at the same $9 rate. And Stephen King's Under The Dome is an even better deal: $35 retail, $9 online at Wal-Mart and Amazon (a savings of 75 percent).

As an independent bookseller, I probably shouldn't be letting people know where they can get these book deals. But the fact is that this book fire sale won't effect our store much because these are not authors who sell well in an independent store. These are authors whose books are sold by the truckload in supermarkets and drug stores, Wal-Marts and Costcos...and Barnes & Nobles and Borders (who will probably feel the pinch in this clash of the titans). Most likely, I will sell only one or two John Grisham books while the Stephen King book may or may not sell at all. I don't even bother to buy James Patterson books for our shop; he may be a brand name writer but his sales do little or nothing for an independent shop like ours, unless he shows up to do a book signing.

November is a difficult month for many book stores and both Amazon and Wal-Mart probably feel the pinch too, so maybe they've decided to do "loss leaders" to get people onto their web sites and, while they are shopping for their book bargains, possibly buy more. It will be interesting to see how long this price cutting lasts (can Amazon continue to sell books below the price of a Kindle download that, many suspect, is well below their costs already?).

These mass discounts may be good for the bottom line, but they cheapen both the book publishers and the authors they publish. Still, the giants will do what they do best: sell popular fiction, widgets or cans of peas by the caseload. Those of us who love books will continue to look for talented new authors and promote them by word-of-mouth one at a time.

Wish us luck.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Gunther goes gunning

Lovers of police procedurals will find much to enjoy in Archer Mayor's The Price of Malice, the 20th investigation headed by Joe Gunther of the Vermont Bureau of Investigation.

After a man is found brutally murdered in Brattleboro, Vermont, the killer remains at large. But it soon develops that the murdered man is a suspected child predator tangled in a network of an extended family living in a local trailer park. Any member of the clan would have had the opportunity to kill him, and, as he was involved with both the mother and her 12-year-old daughter, reason to commit the murder. At the same time, Gunther has learned that his girlfriend Lyn’s fisherman father and brother, believed lost at sea off the coast of Maine, might have actually been murdered.

Lyn returns to Maine to investigate while Gunther periodically puts his on-going murder investigation on hold—irritating his colleagues and angering his bosses —to go and help Lyn in Maine. Torn between his conscience and his heart, a murder investigation and a personal search for the truth, Gunther finds that betrayal and loyalty are often a matter of viewpoint. This is another fine entry into the series, bringing to the fore some of the secondary characters who have been a part of Joe's career over the years. Fans of the irascible Willy Kunkle will be especially pleased, because whenever Willy's on the case the dialogue between him and his associates catches fire.

Basically, The Price of Malice offers solid detective work written by one of the best in the business.