10/19/09

Book Wars! Currently playing at a Wal-Mart near you!

Did everyone see this article?

Book wars! Wal-Mart, Amazon slash costs

I'm proud to say that my first reaction was very professional: poo! poo! and double poo!

Wal-Mart and Amazon, in their fight to rule the world and having already killed a lot of the mom and pops, are going to bring down the rest of the smaller (by comparison) bookstore chains. Which, let's face it, is bad news for the consumer if you're looking for service-oriented bookstores with personality.

And bad news for authors, if you're looking for places to do book signings (which, although they may do very little for an author as far as selling books, they do a lot for helping to spread the word that they exist).

And bad news for small, niche publishers—because your books will never get a loss-leader designation. It will stay regular price.

And, IMHO, this is really bad news for the book buyer in the long-term. Even though those lower prices are tempting, eventually, you find yourself facing a monopoly which can jerk prices any which way they want.

[deep. breath.]

How will this impact the LDS market? In the short-term, since neither Wal-Mart nor Amazon carry a full line of LDS products, and since Deseret Book and Seagull carry little, if any, national titles, life will go on as it is for awhile.

But you can expect to see people wanting lower priced LDS books—which they're not going to get due to product volumes, unless publishers lower their standards yet again and do even less editing and marketing. (Bad, bad, bad idea.)

But in the long-term, things will work out. (Yes, my middle-name is Pollyanna, but that doesn't mean I'm not right.)

See, the entire publishing industry is in the midst of re-thinking everything. To survive as a small, niche publisher, we need to move away from tried and true, and toward cutting edge.

We need to start thinking digital and POD. Lower costs, lower returns, but you get to stay in business—and a serendipitous outcome could be pressure on some publishers to raise their editing and submission standards, moving the overall quality of LDS books from mediocre to superb. (Not that there aren't superb examples of LDS fiction out there; but if you line all the 2009 fiction releases in a row, IMO, we still have a lopsided bell curve that lists to average and below.)

Continuing on about digital and POD options, one quote from that news article is:
The price cuts come at a time when Amazon.com and other sellers have been charging just $9.99 for e-books, a price that publishers worry is unrealistically low.

What?? How is $9.99 unrealistically low for an e-book?

While pre- and post-production costs (editing, typesetting, design, marketing) remain the same for any book, the actual production cost for an e-book is almost nil.

If you connect your e-book to Print-On-Demand services, smaller publishers can produce books for much less of an upfront investment. Their net profits are less, of course, but so are the risks. A small publisher can make quality books available in both electronic and print forms at a reasonable price.

However, they still won't be able to compete with Wal-Mart and Amazon's loss-leader pricing strategies. With this being the case, it's even more important that LDS fiction is QUALITY fiction—and worth the price.

So what do you think?

P.S. I have an idea. And a business plan. But I don't have any money. Anybody interested?

10 comments:

Kate said...

Smaller independent booksellers and publishers may very well lead the industry in small niche markets precisely because they don't have the money (read warehouses and staff) that larger businesses have.

They have to, as you say, think digital and POD to survive. They can put their full resources into turning these markets to their advantage rather than sinking money into a leaking ship.

I've been following a few podcasts related to the business of publishing and find it scary yet very exciting to be on the edge of the future.

Wish I had money to back your idea and experience.

Noble M Standing said...

While I agree that publishers and book stores should change their mindset to keep up with what's happening in the industry, I'm discouraged that everyone thinks that e-books are the way of the future.

I love a paper book, something I can shove in my bag and read without batteries being involved.

Tamara Hart Heiner said...

I really dislike the whole e-book thing too.

as for small bookstores, I support my indies. They might cost $2-3 more, but I wouldn't know b/c I don't compare prices. I know they'll return the favor when it's time for book signings.

And why *is* LDS fiction slightly mediocre most of the time? Not all the time, just like you said. But many times.

Paul West said...

I agree with that (e-book idea). I too would much prefer having a hard copy I can read at my leisure without having to carry around some kind of contraption (read: kindle) to be able to read.

Besides, the light that emanates from the reader hurts my eyes. I'm wondering if anyone has done any research into that?

Kate said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kate said...

Digital isn't always e-books. Audio book sales have increased significantly as well.

Karen Jones Gowen said...

Huh? Dan Brown's book at Walmart for $9...oh, sorry gotta go, I've got an errand to run at--er--uh, Walmart. Oh, right, POD--good for small under-financed publisher, not so good for author with such publisher. Good for self-published author with excellent editing and marketing resources. Not so good for self-publisher who dislikes marketing or can't afford a professional editor.

This is a hot topic that has many opinions, and that's mine, based on what I've see so far. I'm sure there are others who would strongly disagree.

Karen Jones Gowen said...

One more thought before I go to uh..the store...On editing--which I believe is the difference between an excellent and a mediocre book. Perhaps most LDS publishers are underfunded and this is why editing gets shortchanged. Result--mediocrity. Same with design, typesetting, layout, cover art, etc. Many just don't have the resources to do it right.

M. Gray said...

I love how it always just comes back to the writing. Go Pollyanna visionaries!!

Becky said...

Such an interesting debate that I am interested to see play out.