A couple days ago, I was on a bookworm cloud nine. I had discovered in my Internet travels that target.com was offering Barbara Kingsolver's soon-to-be-released new novel for $8.99 with free shipping. Hardcover.... brand new .... $9. Needless to say, I quickly went to the Target website and put in my order for that as well as the upcoming John Grisham short story collection. I bought both books for less than $20 total. I was ecstatic.
Then yesterday, my happy book bubble was burst when I read this article in the New York Times. In short, the American Booksellers Association is charging Target, Wal-Mart, and Amazon with destroying the book industry -- and I am their accomplice!
Or am I?
The gist of what the ABA is claiming is that this "predatory pricing" is devaluing books by selling them at bargain basement prices, at a rather significant loss to the retailers. The ABA's real concern, of course, is that people are flocking to Target, Wal-Mart, and Amazon to get their books rather than independent booksellers who cannot afford to take that loss and instead charge full (or very close to full) price for these books. As a supporter of independent booksellers, I was wracked with guilt over the damage I was potentially doing to my favorite (and only) local bookstore Stone Alley Books.
Here's the thing -- chances are highly likely that, had these books not been so deeply discounted, I wouldn't have bought them anywhere -- not at Target, not on Amazon, and not at Stone Alley. I would have waited until they came out in paperback at a significanly cheaper price, or I would have waited to stumble across them used at Stone Alley, or I would have just bought the Kingsolver book and not the Grisham book. Regardless, both authors made a sale that they may not have made.
And because I was able to get the books for such a good price, I have a little extra in my monthly "book budget" (yes, I have a book budget....I'm geeky like that) to go to Stone Alley and spend a little more than maybe I would have. So my local bookseller will make an additional sale that he may not have had I not discovered the cheap prices.
Of course, I realize that not everyone is like me. I realize that not everyone is as obsessive about books as I am and that plenty of local booksellers have lost business thanks to Wal-Mart, Amazon, and Target. I don't think, however, that what has happened is criminal or merits a Justice Department investigation. What this shows is that there is a market for books out there, but that the market needs cheaper pricing in order to keep going and that publishers need to start finding ways to make it easier for local booksellers to compete and offer the kinds of discounts that will keep the market thriving. Keep books alive -- but keep them affordable.