What is it with books and competition? In Australia, we have seen continual moves to keep foreign editions out of the country with parallel importing laws. In this case, it is nominally to protect Australian authors but in reality it protects Australian publishers of foreign best-sellers and harms bookstores and, of course, readers. And our copyright laws seem to pervade this entire space to restrict free trade. Amazon.com finally launched an International kindle but some books aren’t available (for instance, Parentonomics although Australian readers can look at much of it for free on their computers but not others) and others are much more expensive. For instance, Malcolm Gladwell’s new book is US$9.99 to US customers but US$17.24 to Australian ones! So there, booksellers as well as publishers are protected.
This doesn’t seem confined to Australia. Today, the American Booksellers Association which represents independent bookstores complained to the DOJ about predatory pricing by Amazon, Wal-Mart and Target. Apparently, Wal-Mart decided to discount some new release hardcovers to $10 (from about $25 or more) and a price war ensued and you can pick up these titles for under $9. That is the same as the Kindle price.
The argument is that this is a deliberate strategy by these chains to put smaller stores out of business. Now it may have that impact but the question is whether that is the purpose of this action. Two things suggest otherwise. First, to reap the benefits they would surely want to put other chains out of business. What value is it to Wal-Mart to engage in a nation-wide strategy to get rid of smaller bookstores who carry a larger range than it or eliminate them as sellers to best-sellers if Amazon.com is still around? Second, if Amazon.com was wanting to put Wal-Mart out of business why keep the Kindle price of its books the same? Once again we are led to wonder whether those in the book industry really like reading.
[Update: Malcolm Gladwell’s price for Australians changed today to $11.99.]