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16 October 2009

Giants Battle, David Might Get Crushed Underfoot While Looking for a Stone to Sling

I share with you a Wall Street Journal item from today (Warning: as [blogger] is not among the choices for sharing, this link is not a permalink and thus, may disappear on us at WSJ.com's convenience).
The article is about walmart.com figuratively rolling up its sleeves and taking on amazon.com. There must have been taunts exchanged and tongues stuck out at some point, as walmart.com CEO Raul Vazquez is quoted: "If there is going to be a 'Wal-Mart of the Web,' it is going to be Walmart.com.... Our goal is to be the biggest and most visited retail Web site."
Walmart.com wants to be the biggest and most visited retail Web site?? Classic business school strategy studies says, first pick off the competitor's fringe markets and then, when it doesn't have additional legs to stand on, attack at its (seemingly) strongest point. Gee, had walmart.com been attacking amazon.com's toaster oven and disposable diaper sales online as well as its brick-and-mortar big box bookstores cum acre parking lots which also ban non-family-oriented music CDs and sell five kinds of lettuce all this time and we weren't paying attention?

So, while these two duke it out, the publishing industry is supplying its fingers for ammunition and big-name authors are weighing in.

WSJ probably could not get Stephen King to comment, so Dean Koontz and James Patterson (sometime co-author with Maxine Paetro, Michael Ledwidge, Gabrielle Charbonnet, Martin Dugard,... sorry if I missed anyone else) did the honors:
James Patterson, whose coming novel, "I, Alex Cross," is being discounted from $27.99 to $10, said he was happy to be in Wal-Mart's top 10. However, he warned any industry that sets low price points may later have a difficult time re-establishing those prices. "Obviously e-books have gotten this thing going," said Mr. Patterson. "E-books are terrific and here to stay. But I think that people need to think through the repercussions....But I'm not taking sides....I'm not the endangered species here."
"I'm not the endangered species here." What does that mean? No matter what happens to books -- any kind published by anyone bought from anywhere, he'll still get his advances and royalties? Who then is the endangered species, Mr Patterson? Is his quote just like a character's non-sequitor thoughts or is this poor reporting/editing?

(By the way, steet date for his new book is November 1, 2009. Books on First offers 20% all adult hardcover fiction. Reserve your copy now!)

Dean Koontz expresses conflicting emotions of the writer's need for recognition and readership (see blog post on "aspiring" writers) and his acknowledgement that it's actually a good thing to have small, independent bricks-and-mortar bookstores where a writer and his work can be discovered by a new reader a rainy day browse or through trusted bookseller's personal recommendation.
"Any time people are fighting over your work it's a good thing, especially when you've worked all those years hoping it would be fought over," he said.

Mr. Koontz said he's more worried about the independent bookstores. Although most limit their stock of best-sellers, a price war on the most popular books may hurt.
Thank you, Mr Koontz. Keep on feeling conflicted; that means you're thinking ahead of tomorrow to day after tomorrow. (By the way, just in time for holiday giving -- street date is November 24, 2009, is Dean Koontz's latest book, Breathless.)

Stephen King too looks kindly on us indies although his sales are nothing to sneeze at. He has a book, Under the Dome, also out November 1, 2009, and also, discounted by Books on First at 20% off list (no cover art yet available for posting).

All in all, we independent booksellers cannot sit on our hands (or wring them) while bigger, better-funded retailers trample all over the published book landscape.

I am especially interested in the comments that WSJ.com articles sometimes generate. This one has inspired over 30 of them at last look, and it 's a (generally) good discussion about capitalism, civil society, culture, elitism (whoa, Sherman Alexie!), technology, socialism, ...

Capitalism and writers: So, these price reductions supposedly would result in reductions in an author's royalties. One comment was about how no one is forcing someone to be an author. If it doesn't pay, then, don't be a professional writer. There's still distribution, recognition and readership to consider. I am trying to imagine Mr Patterson with a website offering a couple of free chapters and a BUY NOW TO CONTINUE READING as well as DONATE button, because yes, that's what might result, when there are no publishers to nurture, edit, be passionate about, promote and publicize, print, ... [repeat] writers new to a genre, less known authors (critically acclaimed or otherwise good or bad), and eventually, well-known and bestselling authors like Koontz and Patterson. And, that's just the publishers. I haven't begun to talk about independent booksellers and the costs they incur to offer the value they add. Why stop at watching walmart.com succeed at selling hardcover copies of titles listing at $25-$30 for only $9 but fail to become "the biggest and most visited retail Web site," or amazon.com survive but struggle to maintain its community of reader-contributed reviews and its mighty search engine and network of small used & rare book vendors in the effort to serve two groups: the "I know what I want and I want it now buyer" and the "let's see what might be interesting to read today reader"? Just cut out the middleman entirely.

Another wisdom I learned at graduate management school -- price competition is bad for everyone. It's a downward spiral and lots of stakeholders lose, including readers.

Think about the day after tomorrow, when we must all find a reason for existence that goes beyond the numbers.

I just found Graham Beattie's Book Blog in which you may be interested, also. (This does not happen everyday, as "browsing" on the internet is a lot less fun than browsing in a bookstore -- my opinion.) He has a great quote from the author of The Art of Racing in the Rain Garth Stein (speaking at a gathering that Larry and I did not attend) about selling books. Check it out!

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