Price war could devastate book industry

NEW YORK: Independent bookshops in the US have urged the justice department to investigate a ‘predatory’ online price war between huge retailers such as Wal-Mart, Amazon and Target that has cut the price of hard-back bestsellers to $9.

Works by popular authors including John Grisham, Stephen King and Barbara Kingsolver, typically

selling for $25 to $35,

have been the subject of deep discounts by powerful US players this month in a battle for online supremacy in book sales.

The American Booksellers Association, a 109-year-old trade body representing locally owned shops, says the consequences will be “catastrophic” if the price cuts continue, with small stores at risk of closure and creativity left in jeopardy.

“If left unchecked, these predatory pricing policies will devastate not only the book industry, but our

collective ability to maintain a society where

the widest range of ideas are always made available to the public,” the ABA warned regulators.

The price war broke out a week ago, when the largest US retailer, Wal-Mart, cut some pre-order prices to $10. The titles include a memoir from the former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin and a volume of short stories by Grisham.

Amazon and Target matched the cuts and the three have slugged it

out, cent by cent: Amazon went down to $9 in the

US, Target cut to $8.99

and Wal-Mart went one better, down to $8.98. In Britain, discounting has been less extreme, although Amazon is offering advance orders of Grisham’s book

at £10.44, compared with

a recommended retail

price of £18.99.

Local bookshops in the US say the big retailers are selling far below cost, losing up to $8.50 a book to lure customers to their websites.

“They’re using our most important products, mega-bestsellers, as a loss leader. The entire book industry is in danger of becoming collateral damage in this war,” the ABA says.

Wal-Mart and its rivals have shrugged off the

criticism, arguing that they are simply offering

attractive prices to customers during a period of economic hardship.