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.


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letters to emily said...

keep up the great blogging. wish i could visit your bookstore...