Thursday, November 19, 2009

All My E-Tailers

Independent booksellers have been watching the ongoing book price war with a mixture of horror, opportunism and amusement. Let us recap.

Last time, on All My E-Tailers...

Walmart is jealous of Amazon's success and beauty. It lowers the price of hot, November book releases to $10.00 hoping to lure customers into it's cheapened embrace. Amazon, no shrinking violet, responds by matching the price. Walmart stoops to $9.00. Amazon straightens its hair, puts on some lipstick and matches the price. Target, feeling the need for a love triangle, jumps into the plot. $8.99... $8.98...


The American Booksellers Association smells treachery afoot. It complains to the U.S. Justice Department about predatory pricing. Wily independent booksellers waste no tears crying over the hordes of customers who will flee to the arms of the big E-Tailers. They plot to buy up the massively discounted books and turn a tidy profit. The Big Three fire back by restricting the number of discounted books a customer can buy. All the while, the doting publishers, who raised their books to have dignity and self-esteem, worry the books will be devalued by fickle customers.

We choose to view all this with amusement. Most independent booksellers are unhappy with the price war, but some are not concerned. In a recent article by the Pittsburg Post Gazette, one independent bookseller explained.
The way Richard Goldman sees it, his independent Mystery Lovers Bookstore and the big retailers that happen to sell books aren't close to being on the same page.

"Our customers are not their customers," he said... "For some people, price is important, and I respect that, totally. For some, ambiance is an important thing, supporting your local businesses," said Mr. Goldman, who runs the cozy Oakmont shop with his wife, Mary Alice Gorman.
Independent booksellers can also offer a level of customer service the retail giants can't. The 1998 romantic comedy, You've Got Mail, pits an independent bookseller, Kathleen, against the big box retailer, Fox Books. (And yes, she falls in love with the dashing CEO of Fox Books.) An excerpt from the movie script:
A woman browsing, stops a sales person.
WOMAN SHOPPER: Do you have the "Shoe" books?
SALESPERSON: The "Shoe" books?  Who's the author?
WOMAN SHOPPER:I don't know.  My friend told me my daughter has to read
the "Shoe" books,so here I am.
KATHLEEN: Noel Streatfeild.  Noel Streatfeild wrote Ballet Shoes
and Skating Shoes and Theater Shoes and Movie Shoes...
(she starts crying as she tells her)
I'd start with Skating Shoes, it's my favorite, although
Ballet Shoes is completely wonderful.
SALESPERSON: Streatfeild.  How do you spell that?
As she walks away.
KATHLEEN: (to herself) They know nothing, they know absolutely nothing.
We field similar requests at our store.
"I'm looking for a book on St. Damien of Molokai. I read in in the 1960s, and it had a green cover."

"Certainly, might it be Damien the Leper by John Farrow?"
This is why we choose to view the price war with amusement.

1 comment:

  1. A creative way to summarize the economics of books. Well done.