Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Crocodile Tears

Anyone else been following the Walmart/Amazon/Target hard cover bestsellers pricing wars with interest? I know I was pretty excited about the possibilities of $9.99 (and now $8.99) bestsellers (hey, maybe I'll go back to buying Patricia Cornwell - who really could use the money, it seems). Then I read the fine print. These retailers are only offering these incredible deals online. So no walking into Target or Walmart and picking up a $8.99 John Grisham hard cover. Bummer.

I see this is a big boon for the holiday shopping season. Despite what the evening news keeps trying to tell me, the U.S. economy is far from robust at the moment. And if I'm any gauge, I know that my online shopping reaches a peak at holiday time. I live thousands of miles from most of my family, so buying online and shipping packages to my parent's house has been a lifesaver ever since I moved out west.

But other than that? It's highly unlikely this price war will effect my book shopping one way or the other. For one thing, I buy very few hard covers as a rule (only Tess Gerritsen, Laura Levine and Loren Estleman) and I don't read a ton of bestsellers (honestly, Gerritsen's about it). Also, when I order books online, I'm either downloading ebooks via Harlequin or I'm ordering erotica. To this day, I still make about 90% of my erotic romance and erotica purchases online. And frankly, neither Walmart or Target are going to start carrying Harlequin Spice, Black Lace, Avon Red, Kensington Aphrodisia and Berkley Heat titles any time in the near future....hell, ever. So free shipping or no free shipping, it's unlikely I'm going to click on Walmart.com or Target.com to buy one book. When I buy books online, I'm not buying just one. I'm buying four, five or six. Because that's how I roll.

It's been interesting to follow the various discussions online. I think Jane might be on to something when she speculates that this may "lead to the erosion of hardcovers altogether." A lot of readers believe hard cover = "real" book. Naturally, that's a bunch of horse-hooey, but this belief does exist. Will hard covers still be seen as "real" books if you can get a brand new John Grisham for $8.99? And what will that mean for mass market paperback pricing? I mean, hello?! A brand new paperback tends to cost around $7.99!

Other commentary online is focusing on the poor independent booksellers, who can not compete with these deep discounts.

Excuse me while I go cough up a hair ball.

I tend to get bitchy when anyone mentions those poor, unfortunate independents to my face because I've had nothing but terrible experiences with them over the years. By and large all independents have done is sneer, turn up their nose, and dismiss the romance genre (and therefore, it's readers). I'm obviously a brain-dead moron for reading such drivel and so incredibly stupid that it's a wonder I could figure out how to open the door and walk into their store.

So yeah, excuse me while I don't feel sorry for the independents.

Now certainly, there are exceptions. You have independents like Turn The Page Bookstore, which a lot of readers rave about. Although I'm not sure that one counts since the owner is married to Nora Roberts, and therefore obviously has a brain in his head. Also, I've been in some fabulous romance friendly used bookstores over the years - some of which even sell a selection of new titles on the side. But since their bread and butter tends to be "used" - I'm not sure they count either.

Which is why I keep throwing my money around at evil "big box" bookstores like Borders and Barnes & Noble. For me, it all comes down to selection. I know what I want. I know what I like. And I'm going to give my business to whomever can provide that. If you won't? I'm not darkening your doorstep. Viva la capitalism!

All of which leaves me with what, exactly? I still don't feel sorry for independents (learn to help yourselves assholes!) and all this hullabaloo is unlikely to change the way I buy books. At all. However, I'm still left with one question (OK, two). Will these deeply discounted books be enough to sway buying online-phobes to changing their ways? Will they get past their dislike and/or discomfort to save a few bucks to get the new Stephen King? And will this be enough to make Walmart a real threat in the online marketplace?

Time will tell.


Lynn Spencer said...

>>By and large all independents have done is sneer, turn up their nose, and dismiss the romance genre.

Oh yes. This has been my experience with many indie bookstores and I found it very frustrating. I like quirky, offbeat stores, but I prefer to frequent the ones that don't insult my taste.

Also, love the icons!

joykenn said...

You know, Wendy, this discussion of the possible demise of hardcover books relates to your earlier entry about beloved but worn paperbacks. Paperbacks wear out too fast and they are printed on crapy paper full of acid that turns yellow and then brown way, way before I'm ready to discard some of my keepers. I did buy Lord of Scoundrels in ebook edition so I could add it to my keepers--no yikey yellow pages for me.

Tara Marie said...

Since I do a lot of ordering from Amazon, it may be helpful, but I don't buy many HC.

I find it hard to believe hard covers would simply disappear. There are individuals and organizations that prefer them to paperbacks.

The secret to indies is to find one that specializes in romance.

Mandi said...

I will buy HB if it is a series I really love.

I hardly ever buy books at Target or Walmart just because the ones local to me have a crap-o selection. (and my mom used to be manager of our local bookstore and they still give me 25% off...wheeee)

JamiSings said...

On the subject of used books there's a store here in Costa Mesa that specializes in used romances. They have lots of other types, mind you, but romances are their bread and butter. I think it's theme is even all hearts and flowers. It's been years since I've been there but I do drive by it occasionally so I think, despite there being a Borders nearby, they're still in business.

Anymore I rarely buy books. When I do it's either via the Friends, Amazon.com, or from the Borders Bookstore near Palm Springs. The one here in Costa Mesa sneers at me much the way independents sneer - and not at romances either, but because I used the word "autobiography" when looking for Michael Crawford's "Parcel Arrived Safely, Tied With String." Apparently they don't use the words "autobiography" or "biography."

*mutters* If it's good enough for the library it's good enough for Borders.

But the other Borders I mentioned has the nicest staff. Not at all snooty.

Wendy said...

Lynn: The icons are new additions. I really should spend less time browsing on Photobucket.

Joy: I'd agree with you, if there were still a modicum of quality in hard cover production. In the name of the bottom line, quality has gone way downhill. But yeah - I feel the way you do. When it comes to keepers, I still prefer that shiny hard cover with the pretty dust jacket. It makes my librarian heart skip a beat.

I can't seem to get into ebook "keepers." I can't seem to get over my desire for having something "tangible." That's my quirk though, and certainly digital for keepers will probably be the answer in the long run.

TM: The better question might be - what about trade paperbacks? They were attractive for some because they were cheaper than hard cover, but still seen as more "legitimate" than mass market (::scoff::). If some hard covers have a price point of $9.99, what does that mean for the $16.00 trade pb?

Tracy said...

I don't particularly care to read HC unless that's my only option (and I usually look for ebook first). They're big and clunky and not easy to hold and read.

I wonder, too, if this will effect pb pricing. Something to think about.

Wendy said...

Jami: I frickin' LOVE that used bookstore. Yep, they're still in business.

Mandi: Me too. I've yet to wander into any Target or Walmart that even had a halfway decent book section. My luck is that they've all be El Crap-o.

Tracy: That's what I'm wondering to! With some hard covers selling for $8.99, what does that mean for the $7.99 pb? If anything?

JenB said...

I don't care if hardbacks go down to $2; I still won't buy them. Hate hardbacks.

I hope this serves to make hardbacks less special and less of a gauge of the book's (and author's) legitimacy. I can't say I want hardbacks to go away completely*, but I'd love for publishers to see that mass market readers matter too, and that sales would actually increase if hardbacks and MMPB came out at the same time.

As far as independents...meh. I'm consistently unimpressed with independent booksellers in my area. High prices, limited selection, snooty salespeople and even snootier clientele. I'd rather shop at Borders, thanks.

*okay, I do secretly wish this

JamiSings said...

See, I don't get the whole HB/PB hate. I've got a few patrons whom only check out PBs, yes, but that's because they travel a lot. To me the cover doesn't make a difference. Just the content. But maybe it's because I can get most HBs cheap by buying used or buying them at CostCo.

Last time I bought a new HB was earlier this year when I wanted to read Dexter By Design. It was out in England already but wasn't due out in America until September. I couldn't wait so I ordered it from Amazon UK.

Kelly Anne said...

I spent the past summer working for an independent bookstore in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. The owner was very cool with romances, had a very healthy section. As it's in a beach area, they carry a lot of "beach reading" type books, but the romance section was in addition to that. In fact, when he hired me, he told me that he'd had an employee who did just what you're describing--turned his nose up at anyone reading anything other than "real" literature--and he was determined never to have that happen again. I was quick to assure him that I was definitely not a repeat of that guy!

Wendy said...

JenB: I'd be willing to pay the higher prices at independents in exchange for "good service." But sadly, the snooty attitudes I tend to encounter kills that notion for me.

Jami: I tend to be a format ho. I want books to be available in as many formats as humanly possible. I like mass market for the portability factor, but I like hard cover because they're pretty and shiny. Nothing gets to me quite like shiny, new, yet to be touched hard cover books. That might be a librarian thing though :)

Kelly: Smart owner :) Especially being so close to the beach. Who doesn't love a good, steamy read while lounging on the beach? Well, either that or serial killers - LOL. I've been known to read a good murder mystery at the beach as well.

Anonymous said...

I buy few hardcovers and one of those is J.D. Robb. My mother and I take turns buying it in hardcover and then we both read it and then loan it out to my cousin so that I really feel we got our money's worth. I ordered it from Walmart because it had the cheapest price at the time ($10.00 before the news story hit and the lowered the price even more). They didn't charge me shipping, just tax and I felt that 10.70 was such a bargain that I snapped it up. My money is limited and I feel no shame in taking advantage of this. Amazon then sent me a message that they had it cheaper but I didn't change my mind. I think that the competition is healthy and will make Amazon think twice about assuming that they have the monopoly on online purchases of books from me.. or anyone for that matter.

Thanks Wendy for the great post!


Tara Marie said...

I agree with you the question is about trade paperbacks? I could see them being marginalized out, and we can only hope if the price of hard covers are 8.99 then the price of paperbacks should come down too? Honestly, who's going to wait to pay 7.99 when they hardcover is only a dollar more.

JamiSings said...

Wendy - agree with you there. I just don't like reading books on the computer as I'm migraine prone and tend to lose my place. But hard back, paperback, it's all good. If it gets people reading they should have books in every type of format. Heck, put them a sentance at a time on billboards for all I care. Long as people read!