Saturday, October 17, 2009

guess who gets crushed in Wal-Mart vs. Amazon?

Amazon and Wal-Mart are fighting a book-price war. Walmart cut the price of their new hardcovers (blockbusters by Stephen King, John Grisham etc.) to $10. Amazon matched them. Wal-Mart dropped theirs to $9. Amazon again matched and announced it will offer same-day delivery in select cities (New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Baltimore, Las Vegas, Seattle and Washington). Wow, readers might be thinking, this is awesome--cheap books! Well, yes. And no. If this continues, the ones who will suffer are the writers and, as a result (writers not writing = fewer good books) you, the reader.

Richard Curtis explains it all here.

Typically, publishing contracts reduce author royalties when the discount offered to retailers reaches a certain threshhold. I'm looking at some contracts with big houses that state that when the discount reaches 56%, the author's royalty is cut from one based on list price to one based on net receipts. For example, on a $25 book that means your 10% royalty drops from $2.50 (10% of the list price) to $1.10 (10% of the $11.00 your publisher actually collects from the retailer).

So, authors, this is not merely a spectator sport. Some of you are gonna get killed.

This doesn't currently affect me; I'm not a blockbuster seller. (Wow, never thought there'd come a day when I was pleased about that.)

I'm not saying, Don't buy these cheap books! For one, it would be pointless--you'd do it anyway, right? I know I would. (Actually, I'm eyeing the Stephen King book as a present for K; that price, wow, it can't be beat.) I'm simply saying that there's no such thing as a free lunch. Models will change, whole niches in the publishing ecosystem will soon be laid waste, things will get worse before they get better. They will get better. It's actually pretty exciting (as I've said before). But change is hard and price wars are wasteful.

I can't fix this, so for now I'll ignore it. I'll go write some more Hild. I wonder what kind of publishing world she will debut into...

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