We're firmly into the end zone of fall. Next weekend the clocks get turned back, Halloween candy goes on sale half price to make room for Christmas gear, and the extraordinary fall publishing season really and truly winds down. It was a hell of a run, and I have the intimidating stack of books to prove it. There are a few left for the wish list, though, as Kat Warren reminds us in her Review Redux for the week. Barbara Kingsolver's The Lacuna is particularly tempting, especially because I'm in the middle of a seriously happy reread of William Boyd's Any Human Heart and the idea of historical characters on parade sounds good. (Trotsky, Diego Rivera, Zelda Fitzgerald, and Richard Nixon? I'm in.) As Kat reports, the book has been deeply discounted at Amazon—$9.00 for a book that would cost you $26.99 straight out of the publisher's catalog. Or you could take a trip to Wal-Mart and save another two cents.
On the surface that seems like good news, and certainly for the casual consumer it is. But the implications for the publishing industry as a whole are more dismal. This is price-gouging, with the big-box stores (and yes, Amazon) taking losses on a selection of the season's big hardcovers in order to encourage shoppers to spend their savings elsewhere, and in the process squeezing out independent booksellers who can't afford those kinds of losses on each book. As HarperStudio breaks it down:
Retailers pay publishers roughly 50% of the suggested retail price for books. For instance, when Wal-Mart buys a $35.00 book from Scribner, they pay Scribner about $17.50. If Wal-Mart then chooses to sell that book for $10.00, they are losing about $7.50 per copy sold. So, the “P&L” doesn’t look so good in this case for Wal-Mart, but clearly there are larger agendas involved for these companies, who are willing to use these books as “loss leaders” to establish their predominance on the retailing landscape. Their behavior is not illegal or anticompetitive; in fact, it would be illegal for publishers to tell any American retailer what to charge for a book; that’s why it’s called a “suggested” retail price.
(Apparently not in Canada, though. But as the price on any dustjacket will tell you, books are always more expensive there.)
As usual, Kassia Kroszer at Booksquare has a good overview of the situation—including a link to an interesting discussion of why some guerilla indies are buying from Target instead of the publishers, and what's wrong with that picture—as well as some other recent developments in the busy book industry that are worth clicking through and reading. And remember: Independent Booksellers Week kicks off on November 15. That gives you 2-1/2 weeks to save your change in a jar, pack your own lunch for a couple of days, and give your local indie that extra $18.00 for the end-of-the-year blockbuster you can't live without.