Should feds be looking into book price war? Chains discount
Been meaning to weigh on the book price war, but was caught up in a few assignments and didn’t get to it.
Here’s the thing: Price wars are not new. Chains use popular books and videos as loss leaders for bigger purchases.
Independent stores and content providers don’t like it. But does it destroy the fabric of our nation? In its request for a Dept. of Justice investigation, the American Booksellers Assn. predicted just that. Consider:
We would find these practices questionable were they taking place in the market for widgets. That they are taking place in the market for books is catastrophic. If left unchecked, these predatory pricing policies will devastate not only the book industry, but our collective ability to maintain a society where the widest range of ideas are always made available to the public, and will allow the few remaining mega booksellers to raise prices to consumers unchecked.
Leaving aside the inherent nobleness of the book biz, there’s another claim to consider: That this pricing will devalue “the very concept of a book.” This is a similar case that studios are making in their Redbox lawsuits, and it echoes their complaints about loss-leader pricing of DVDs for years.
The more interesting aspect is the role of e-books. The price war got started in part by retailers eager to compete against e-books, which are frequently priced at $9.99. Yesterday, the WSJ reported that S&S is delaying the e-book version of Stephen King’s next novel six weeks in order to try and protect holiday sales of the hardcover. The hardcover will carry a $35 list price, although will be steeply discounted.
Amazon, of course, has vested interested in e-book sales due to the Kindle. And Barnes & Noble just debuted its Nook e-reader.
King’s book is the third major title to get a delayed electronic debuts this season. Twelve delayed Ted Kennedy’s “True Compass” in September, and HarperCollins recently pushed back Sarah Palin’s “Going Rogue.”
Rest assured, they won’t be the last.