Monday, October 19, 2009

Target Jumps into Book War

The book war we were discussing last week has just become more interesting with Target’s decision to join battle with Wal-Mart and Amazon to see who can sell the “most anticipated” books of the Christmas season the cheapest. Consumers, of course, welcome any kind of price war but now the publishing industry itself is beginning to wonder if this is really a good thing.

According to this New York Times article:
Publishers, booksellers, agents and authors, meanwhile, fretted that the battle was taking prices for certain hardcover titles so low that it could fundamentally damage the industry and the ability of future authors to write or publish new works.
“If readers come to believe that the value of a new book is $10, publishing as we know it is over,” said David Gernert, Mr. Grisham’s literary agent. “If you can buy Stephen King’s new novel or John Grisham’s ‘Ford County’ for $10, why would you buy a brilliant first novel for $25? I think we underestimate the effect to which extremely discounted best sellers take the consumer’s attention away from emerging writers.”
“What this does is accentuate the trend towards best sellers dominating the market,” Mr. Petrocelli (owner of San Francisco indie bookstore Book Passage)said. Without independents, decisions about what books to put on store shelves would reside in the hands of a few corporate executives rather than hundreds of idiosyncratic booksellers, he said.

“You have a choke point where millions of writers are trying to reach millions of readers,” Mr. Petrocelli said, “but if it all has to go through a narrow funnel where there are only four or five buyers deciding what’s going to get published, the business is in trouble.”
Despite having at least one of his books included in the "most anticipated titles" (the shock here is that he doesn't have two or three of his 150 books a year in the list), even James Patterson seems to have his doubts about how smart all of this is:
“Imagine if somebody was selling DVDs of this week’s new movies for $5,” Mr. Patterson said. “You wouldn’t be able to make movies.” He added, “I can guarantee you that the movie studios would not take this kind of thing sitting down.”
So there you have it. If the super-brilliant, wonderful writer and all-around Superman, James Patterson, thinks this is not good, it can't be good. After all, no one knows how to manipulate the bestseller lists better than Mr. Patterson.

I'm embarrassed to say that I agree with Superwriter. This might just backfire on those of us who don't shop the generally poor books that dominate the bestseller lists by squeezing higher quality books right off the press.


  1. When I read this, what I was thinking was "You get what you pay for." I don't usually read the books on the bestseller lists because they tend to be pretty lousy (with some exceptions) books. I would, and do pay more for books that aren't bestsellers, including some small press books. I could see how this could confuse the book-buying public, though.

  2. True, and it's the bestseller list that generally allows publishers to publish the "smaller" books that folks like us thrive on...if their margins on the "big" books get squeezed by these major retailers it won't be long before we see fewer quality books in print and more of the kind of low brow stuff that Patterson and Dan Brown write.

    And Wal-Mart and Amazon have the clout to demand lower wholesale book prices - and get them. That's where the squeeze would come from.