October 22, 2009

Impact of mega-retailers pricing war starting to be felt already ….


Stephen King helping Amazon launch the Kindle II at a New York press conference in February

Stephen King helping Amazon launch the Kindle II at a New York press conference in February

In case you’re wondering about the fall-out from the price-war between Walmart.com, Amazon.com, Target.com, and Sears.com, and the news about struggling indies wasn’t enough, Jeffrety A. Trachtenberg, the Wall Street Journal reporter who is, by general consensus and obvious fact, the leading book industry reporter in industry-town New York, has this report: “Stephen King‘s publisher is keeping the e-book edition of his novel Under the Dome under wraps until the day before Christmas, as tensions mount between book publishers and retailers over the crucial issue of pricing industry blockbusters. Aiming to preserve the value of the hardcover edition, Scribner, an imprint of CBS Corp.’s Simon & Schuster publishing arm, is delaying the electronic-book publication of the King thriller until Dec. 24, or six weeks after the $35 hardcover hits the bookstores on Nov. 10.” All this, of course, as Trachtenberg observes, “as wal-Mart Stores, Inc., Amazon.com Inc. and Target Corp are using some of the country’s most anticipated new hardcover books as loss leaders to attract shoppers online.”

The concept of whether it’s a good idea to delay ebook releases is still a relatively new idea undergoing examination in the book industry (as recently discussed in this MobyLives report). As Simon & Schuster spokesman Adam Rothberg says, “Publishers have long issued different formats of a book at different times. This is an opportunity to see what happens when we issue the e-book at a different time in the publication sequence.”

But in this instance it seems it was the all-powerful King — a well-known advocate of ebooks — who “said that he wanted to delay the e-book edition in hopes of helping independent bookstores and the national bookstore chains sell the hardcover edition,” reports Trachtenberg. King tells him, “My thinking was to give bookstores a chance to make some money.”

But King is also concerned that the price war “may enrich authors in the short run, by increasing sales,” but that “steep discounting tthreatens the industry’s pricing structure,” says Trachtenberg, as well as “the impact the sharp discounting may have on other writers.”

Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House.