Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Price Wars, or:What the he double hockey sticks is going on?

I could very easily list a dozen or so links about the battle between Walmart, Amazon, Target and Sears(really?) to see who can sell new books the cheapest. And much of what has been written is of the snarky or poking fun variety. But the real issues, and there are many, are cause for great concern. Certainly for bookstores and publishers and everyone else involved in the wild world of books. But also for retailers in general and also, I believe, for consumers as well.

I won't get into all the nuts and bolts of this. Go here for some good analysis and a link to the New York Times for the news portions of the story.

I would say the only title on the list that poses major problems is the Barbara Kingsolver--which is probably true for about 90% of booksellers. Here's an interesting twist: we are selling books for a Stephen King event in November and could have saved about $2,500.00 if we had ordered our books through one of these websites rather than the publisher directly. That is crazy. Krazee.

One of the biggest problems in all of this is that it devalues books as a sellable commodity. I'm as free market as the next guy, but that isn't exactly what we're dealing with here. It puts even chain stores in a tight spot. Since they're known for discounting I'm certain customers will be asking if they too can go cheaper. And they really can't afford to. Or is it they can't afford not to? I'm not sure. If nothing else this points out that the book industry is sick. No healthy industry would allow a couple middle men to step in and buy massive amounts of product to re-sell at massive loss. How massive? Well, the King book is going to retail for $35(although that suggested price is starting to mean less and less). If the rules are being followed, 46% is the discount these re-sellers should be getting. That means they, and we, get the book for $18.90 and selling it at $8.99 means a loss of $9.91 on each and every one they sell.

It will be very interesting to see how all of this plays out. It's possible that very soon, if not already, the inmates will be running the asylum of the book world.

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