Cheap Books are Bad for Business?

I go away for a weekend and Amazon and Wal-Mart get locked into a price war over upcoming bestsellers.

As someone who has lamented (bitched and whined) about the price of books, especially books in the “literature” section, this doesn’t bother me. I don’t share the agent’s worry that this is going to somehow destroy the market for new writers. I’m hoping the effect is more along the lines of keeping the James Patterson’s of the world from making $150m for the next three years (and 17 books).

But I know this is probably just a delusional fantasy of mine and that we are probably more likely to see the publishing industry go the route of Hollywood and just start churning out as many “blockbusters” as they think they possibly can.

what would that mean? It would mean that Stephen King would no longer have to fret over that extra novel he occasionally writes in a year and can just publish it under his own name than under “Richard Bachman.” It means we would see more Grishams, Rices, etc. etc. etc.

so the emerging writer wouldn’t get priced out of the medium so much as pushed to the side for the authors guaranteed to bring in the money.

Which would also be bad.

But maybe, just maybe, we will see the beginning of book prices just coming down across the board. If this means the end to the Trade Paperback (or at least its being scaled back for only selected works and not every work), I’m fine with it. If it means prices drop to around $25 for a hard cover and $10 for a paperback, it wouldn’t stop me from trying a new author.

Which is what I think the high price of books effectively does. I would even say that it doesn’t just push buyers of books towards authors they feel safe with (like Stephen King) but away from books as a whole. When the price of one hardcover is the same as three (or even seven) DVDs, I don’t think it is any wonder that people move towards the movies. They get more bang for their buck.  I have two degrees in English and the prices turn me off. What does that say for people who are, more or less, looking for an entertainment option???

Of course there is the worry that this won’t be a minor blip on the radar screen and that $10 will become the new price point for hardcovers. I’ve read a few articles now proclaiming how the business of selling books will have to be fundementally changed to accomodate this sudden and drastic price change. And I don’t buy it for a second. While I have hopes that the overall price for books comes down, the reality is that I don’t expect this to have any real, long lasting effects. It’s a price war. These two will fire their shots, stuff will get cheaper for awhile, and then it will be over. Prices will go back up and reading will still be a wholly unaffordable act for the majority of people.

So take advantage of the moment. If you’re a fan of the ten or so books being heavily discounted and you don’t want to wait for either paperback or the second hand shop to get them in, grab them now. I’m thinking of getting the Stephen King book.

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