Monday, October 19, 2009
So, the Book Wars that began late last week are continuing . . . with Wal-mart and Amazon slashing prices on their best-sellers to crazy levels, what will happen to independent bookstores and new-to-the-scene authors? For those of you who aren’t as into book-business geekery as I am, there’s a great article at WSJ.com ( http://tinyurl.com/yjhr26w ) about the whole situation. In a nutshell, though, Wal-mart and Amazon.com are each trying to out-low-price the other, selling their most popular titles *at a loss!*
At this point, it’s not just independent bookstores that will suffer. Even the larger bookstore chains – like Barnes & Noble – that don’t have a plethora of other products with which to turn a profit are being placed in a difficult situation by the Wal-mart/Amazon duopoly. And once something like this is hurting *Barnes and Noble,* you can believe that your corner bookseller, who has no choice but to sell books for the actual price that is actually printed on the actual cover, is already neck-deep in the fast-rising waters of business failure.
Beyond the people who are selling the books, this sort of crazy pricing is hard on authors who don’t have the selling power or name recognition of, say, a Stephenie Meyer or a Dan Brown. In these tough economic times, all writers appreciate consumers opening their ever-thinner wallets to buy the stories we’ve worked so hard on – the books that, for us, represent rent paid, food bought, and the boon of continued electrical service. But when faced with the choice of Dan Brown’s novel for $8.99 (in hardcover! Good God!) or taking a chance on a new author whose book costs several dollars more, my fear is that too many of these customers will reach for the cut-rate book. Maybe that sounds like paranoia, but I’ve heard enough rumbling and grumbling from my cohorts in the publishing industry to know that I’m far from the only one who feels that way.
Are there any upsides to the new low, low, LOW prices? Sure. Someone who is on a tight budget may buy a nine-dollar novel. If the only books on offer are fifteen dollars – or more – that may pass the threshold of affordability for a segment of the population, resulting in a missed sale for everyone. And while I have no love for Wal-mart, I’ll admit to liking (and using) Amazon. I can shop there in the middle of the night, when the brick-and-mortars are closed. I can find any book I might need. The prices are attractive, even to me.
Still, I think everyone who loves to read should be concerned about what these latest pricing maneuvers are doing to the publishing industry as a whole. If prices fall dramatically, it will result in lower earnings for the publishers. Which could quickly translate into less pay for the authors who provide those publishers with material. And that only makes it harder for us to do our jobs, what with the whole worrying-about-paying-for-heat thing. Writing in a drafty garret may seem romantic, but I don’t think numb fingers are anyone’s idea of success.