Predatory pricing practices in the US book market

by Sharyn Lilley

Alan Fels derided the recent Government decision, and referred to the opponents of the PIR abolition as being ignorant and uneducated.

I was opposed to the particular changes being put forward to abolish the PIR’s and as I left school at fifteen, almost three decades ago, I guess he could have been talking about me. I think, however, that such name calling by someone who could do a lot more for the cause he championed, provided he was prepared to work with both sides of the argument, somewhat lacking in graciousness.

Peter Donoughue, could also do more by getting together with the people at the coal face, and working with them to lower prices of Australian books, rather than slyly referring to Chicken Little scare practices of industry organisations, pandering to their lowest common denominator membership.

In fact if you are an author, publisher, printer, an agent, an editor, illustrator, a bookseller or in the distribution side of the Australian publishing industry, we all need to start thinking of ways to get everyone together to discuss seriously how to improve things here. Because there is a bigger threat waiting in the wings if we don’t.

The Huffington Post (United States) has an article highlighting the problems being faced by predatory pricing practices in the US at the moment.

I note that the key players in this book war are Amazon, Walmart, and Target. It’s tempting to make gratuitous comments about evil empires striking back, but I’ll refrain. Because the ones being wounded by this war’s shrapnel as much as authors and publishers, are the booksellers.

The legitimate booksellers are those who specialise in books. They can’t use books as a loss leader, they don’t bank on people buying other more profitable goods while they are in the store.

Hands up anyone who was able to find someone in their local K-mart or Big W book section who knew what books were in stock, and when other books might be available?

No hands? Ahh, yes, that would be because your local supermarket has no say over what stock comes into their book shelves, and they can’t order anything in for you.

But the Huffington Post article raises a very valid point. When the mass market retailers use their market share to try to force competitors out of business you are left with no alternative but to buy from them.

The image of 500 buyers for different stores (as portrayed in the article) being replaced by a single buyer responsible for stocking 500 stores is chilling. Mass market retailers are only interested in products that give them the best profit.

SUPPORT AUTHENTIC BOOKSTORES before we all lose out!



One thought on “Predatory pricing practices in the US book market

  1. Once more a bunch of buggy whip manufacturers are banding together to try to preserve laws which make buying from them compulsory. The only “predatory pricing” I have encountered in the Australian book market is at the cash register.

    After a lifetime of being ripped off, waiting a year or more for books to be available here, being inflicted with large format paperbacks and “special orders” that cost the earth (and took months to arrive) I must say my sympathy levels are muted.

    If ever there was an industry that was less interested in what their customer base wanted I have yet to encounter it. And now at the 11th hour you want to engage in “urgent discussions” to talk about how to reduce prices !

    Sorry guys, a decade (if not two) after the fact. You hid behind your protectionist wall for a generation staying fat & happy and now the big bad wolves are here to stay.

    The outcome of this debate is pretty much irrelevant to me.

    I have not bought a book at a bookshop for over two years. Quite obviously it was cheaper for me to buy from the US, postage and all, and I must say I do not miss the “service” (read, fish eyed disinterest, at my local book-chain). The “expert help” that is supposed to justify the 50 – 70% premium I pay there is nowhere near the lively and thoughtful comment on the various reader’s forums I frequent.

    What internet sale of paperbacks leaves behind the kindle will gobble whole, and no great loss. Small independent bookshops launching a local author’s work at wine and cheese evenings are nice, but lets face it, going on holiday at a leisurely pace behind a horse probably had its pleasant aspects too.

    Either find a new business model that accepts the outside world or turn to dust and be gone on the wind. As a former consumer of the Australian publishing / book-selling market (who will not be back) I don’t really care very much.

    And for the record – I am the son of a librarian / antiquarian book collector who grew up in bookshops and for whom “christmas” was a breathless wait for a bag of books to cover, savour and read again and again. If you lost ME you have problems.

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