Stephen King on the delay of his e-book and the $9 price wars - can bookstores survive?

44574551In the latest skirmish in the e-book war, Scribner announced this week that it will delay the e-book release of EW columnist and perennial best-seller Stephen King’s new novel, Under the Dome, until Dec. 24. That’s almost six weeks after the hardcover edition goes on sale November 10. “We think that this publishing sequence gives us the opportunity to maximize hardcover sales and at the same time allows people who receive a reading device or gift certificates as a holiday gift to enjoy the digital edition,” says  Adam Rothberg, a spokesman for Scribner (an imprint of Viacom’s Simon & Schuster). In an exclusive comment to EW, the author himself was more blunt: “It’s time to give the smaller bookstores a little breathing room (although not much chance of that, with Walmart offering Dome for nine bucks.)” He’s referring to the fact that Walmart (as well as Amazon and Target) this week began offering his book, along with nine hot titles, for as little as $8.98. The retail price of King’s book is $35, which means these retailers are taking a loss on each book.

King is not alone in his concern about the impact the $9 price wars will have on traditional booksellers. The recent price-chopping has led the American Booksellers Association, which represents independent bookstores, to file an official complaint with the U.S. Justice Department, charging that the three retail behemoths are engaging in “illegal predatory pricing.” In a letter released yesterday, the ABA went on to say that the practice was “damaging to the book industry and harmful to consumers.” A top publishing executive tells EW: “They had no choice. Bookstores are simply under siege. On one side, they’re facing the threat of e-books, and on the other they’re staring in the face of these three ugly superpowers.” David Young, the CEO of Hachette Book Group USA (publisher of James Patterson’s upcoming I, Alex Cross, another one of the $8.98 titles), told the New York Times: “I do think this massive devaluation of the industry’s crown jewels could very quickly be extremely harmful. And I would not be alone in thinking that.”

How can traditional bookstores compete against giant retailers who are willing to sell books at a loss (a luxury that books-only retailers can’t afford to do)? And is it fair for publishers to fight back by delaying the release of e-book versions of new titles like Under the Dome? What do you think?

Comments (55 total) Add your comment
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  • colin

    $9 books are harmful to consumers how, exactly?

    • Aug

      Well, if you don’t like the idea of small businesses and the culture of a bookstore, and think it is a good thing for all purchasing to happen at a Wal Mart, it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. However, music fans recall how Best Buy destroyed music-only stores by selling CDs at tremendously low prices. Now that the music stores are gone, Best Buy only sells a fraction of what they used to, at a much higher price than before (unless it is something they are pushing in new releases). So once Wal Mart pushes out its competition, they can sell books for whatever they want and offer only whatever they want to order. Is this what you want?

      • Melanie

        It’s even scarier when you consider that by only offering books that they choose they can control what is available to the masses once they shut down smalle outlets. Pretty scary considering WalMart is a pretty conservative company ideologically speaking.

      • Chris

        Correction, Melanie, it would be scary no matter which way WalMart leans ideologically.

      • Ardiril

        When exactly did Best Buy sell CDs “at tremendously low prices”? Nowhere near me. Further, Walmart already “sell[s] books for whatever they want and offer[s] only whatever they want to order”. Plus, Walmart already has competition with Amazon, Target and Barnes and Noble Online.

      • Holly

        Wow – you said it – something I don’t think many people even realize – you have to hike it to a major mall to find one itty bitty Music store now and Best Buy NEVER has the variety these stores used to have.

    • Adrienne

      Because, once they’ve driven all of the books-only shops out of business, they can decide what books we have access to and for what price.

    • Kristen

      Megastores essentially wipe out the competition, this leads to a lack of variety in the market. This is bad for the consumer under any circumstances. However, when talking about books, music, films…it’s the homogenization of our culture on fast-forward. We need independent booksellers.

  • Xena

    I am sorry for the small bookstores! I hate Walmart, and I won’t shop there until the merchandise is FREE (and steam cleaned, thank you very much) but I jumped on Amazon’s cheap books already. I can’t resist a bargain…..

  • Rich

    To paraphrase Charlie Sheen in Wall Street, how many yachts can Stephen King water ski behind? $35? For a book? Seriously, if Stevie (EW columnist) cared about the “little guy,” he’d find a way to sell his book for a lot less than $35. Then the price war might not have been necessary.

    • Horatio

      Hate to tell you Rich, but the authors don’t set the price. Not even powerhouses such as King can not demand price reductions.

      And don’t compare it to the music business, as they are two very different industries.

      • Rich

        Fair enough. But my original question still stands. $35 for what? They’re also charging $35 for the ebook, a couple months after the hardback hits the shelves. No print costs, no shipping costs, no storage costs, etc. Yet they’re still charging $35. King may not set the costs, but he could refuse to sell the book to a publisher that charges that much. Or put it on his website and ask for donations. He (along with J.K. Rowling) may be the only author that could seriously affect the way the business is run.

      • Rick

        It’s $35 list price so that everybody — small bookstores included — can mark the current bestsellers at 40% off and still make money. This $9 business is just a lower-cut version of what the business has done for years. Nobody pays $35 for bestsellers.

    • Belinda

      In terms of printed books, after they pay the author (on average $2 to $3 per book, normally less than that), the publisher’s gotta pay the printer, who pay for the paper, the book binding, the glue or stitching that holds the paper together, the wholesaler who stocks the book to send to retailers, etc, etc. What, you think the publisher gets that for free? That accounts for half the retail price of the printed book. The other half of the retail price allows the retailer to cover their costs (and give a discount if they want) and stay in business to keep selling books. Why publishers might set a retail price like that for ebook editions of books by big name authors is so they can recover some of the costs of publishing books by other developing authors (as not every book published is as successful as some of those by big name authors). So you can keep having new books to read.

    • raingods

      It’s obvious you don’t know how the publishing industry works, let alone the rights a writer doesn’t have-including big names like King. If you have a contract with a publisher-as King does with Scribner, you can’t just refuse to release a book. Well, not without a nasty lawsuit on the heels of that, anyway.

      Also, nowhere in the article does it say how much the e-book will cost. The only price is for the hardcover. check other hardcover books and they’ll be in the same price range. doing a little research before posting something that makes you look ignorant is a good idea.

    • Nay

      I agree with you. Many of the authors of the bestsellers are rich many times over. Some of us struggle to pay our bills and still be able to buy books. Give me a break. The little bookstores carry more books than the giants do. I personally help keep a couple books stores in business, buy books through a book club (9.95 by the way why weren’t they sreaming about that) and buy books in Target, Wal-Mart etc.

      • Portia

        Book clubs were never a signifcant part of the market, so had very little, if any, impact on bookstore sales. The books they sold were also cheaply produced editions.

      • Erin

        I’d like to introduce everyone who is complaining about the price of books to an amazing, wonderous place, where they let you read all the books you want for free…the library.

  • Sue

    Walmart’s been undercutting prices on music CDs for years and look how well that turned out for the music industry…oh wait…

  • Sean

    While $35 is quite alot for a book, I do wish people would use some context. For this $35, you receive days/weeks worth of entertainment which becomes your permanent property. You can later trade/loan with others for even more entertainment value. Meanwhile $35 in a movie theater, casino or bar gives you a couple of hours of entertainment and nothing belongs to you when you are done. I also agree, that $9 books will do the same thing to the mainstream retail book industry that already happened to traditional music stores. Say goodbye to product choice.

    • Paul in Michigan

      $35 is way to much for a book because after your done reading it- its only worth $9 and thats how Walmart does their pricing

      • Docbrite

        Some people read books more than once.

  • jes

    I think its a shame that walmart and bigger companies are once again pushing the little guys out of the market.
    As a side note Stephen King doesn’t set the thirty-five dollar price for a book.
    I worked in a bookstore for years and authors make actually very little on their books. In fact bookstores make very little. They make their money selling the bargain that you find at the front of the store.

  • ld70

    I enjoy waiting for and buying a new hard-bound book. Some people also collect first edition books. I will buy them anywhere, but would prefer to support the smaller bookstores when I can. I live near Seattle and Elliott Bay Bookstores, an iconic bookstore visited by many popular writers, is fighting for survival and may even move out of Pioneer Square to stay afloat. Yes, $35 may sound like a lot, but remember all the people who are supported by purchasing that book (not just the author).

  • Reed Hardy

    Can’t really compare music to literature. I have always had headphones, so it never really mattered if I had a walkman, portable cd, or iPod. The music sounded the same. Can’t curl up by the fire with a good e-book. Can’t smell the paper or turn the pages. Can’t use the bookmark your daughter gave you. I am NOT buying e-books, and I avoid Wal-Mart like the plague. Unfortuantely I make enough money to be able to make this choice. The majority of Americans do not, and the bargains will rule. Goodbye newpapers, magazines, and the hardcover. Let’s all just stare at an LCD screen 24/7. After all, the lowest common denominator is an electronic file. No book – no publishing costs – cheap cheap cheap. Enjoy!

    • portorikan

      It’s funny, as a huge music fan, I feel the same way you do but in the exact opposite way. I am not interested in buying mp3 or AACs. I’ll pick one up here or there, but books on the other hand, they’re perfect in the eBook format.

      I just can’t let go of the artwork of an album, and the warmth of the sound from a high quality CD or otherwise.

      Books are just words on a page. Extra bulk to carry around and transport. If they weren’t so heavy and bulky, I would read more of them. Ta DA! ebook! :)

      Different Strokes for different folks.

    • Loopy

      How can you not “curl up by the fire with a good e-book”?

  • mscisluv

    $35 does seem like a LOT of money for a Stephen King novel…in this economy, it’s hard to justify paying the list price to help out the little guys when all of us are hurting.

  • Boo Radley

    I do enjoy smaller bookstores, but who wants to pay 35.00 for a book? Books have gotten way too expensive, which is why I primarily buy from Amazon. I just can’t pay that much for a book.

  • Chris Kubica

    Publishers are in trouble. $35 is just to upset declines in sales across the board for ALL their books. Just wait. Eventually the model will be more like Author Readers with much fewer middlemen. We just need to wait a few years for the big publishing houses to croak and for a great e-platform to take off.

  • Crystal

    I have a Kindle, and I still support bookstores (where possible, here in the redneck riviera we have two). I also consider a close personal pal and am in the library so much they just go get my books for me without asking my name. All that said, I doubt that charging $35.00 a book is going to save the publishing industry and smaller bookstores, anymore than e-books are going to single-handedly kill it. People are going to buy books where they are cheapest. Why? Because we’re poor (and before someone makes a crack about the Kindle, my mom bought it for me, and got offended when I told her she was nuts, something about doing something nice for her kid). We’re going to buy where it is cheapest, especially if it is the exact same product of the exact same quality. You may not like it, but Under The Dome bought at Wally World, Target, Costco, etc, is going to look exactly the same as it does buying it at Borders, Barnes and Noble, or the cute little independent bookstore.

    • Lisa Simpson

      Yes, but once all those independent bookstores are gone, it will be Wal-Mart and Barnes & Noble deciding what you’re going to read. Do you really want that?

  • Sue

    Thanks guys who argue that you can’t compare music to books for making my point for me. Music has been commoditized to the point where people expect it to be free. Music and books are both forms of entertainment and their purchasing dollars both come out of your discretionary funds. It happened to music, it can happen to books just as easily.

  • James Ridout

    Well one author appears to control his prices. C.J. Beck says he’s raising the price of SIXTEEN STORIES, NO PETS from $11.00 to $19.99 November 1. Says novelists receive only pennies in
    royalties, months or years after a decade of distillation and hard work. Says there is ten years of hands-on research in his latest novel – part condo survival manual, part comic crime
    mystery. I know a couple of years can go into an album for music that’s now reduced to a commodity we expect for free. Pass the hat.

  • Portia

    If everything is cheap, then nothing has value. We’ve become spoiled and want as much as possible for as little as possible without regard to what something is really worth. When looking at the price of something, you have to consider how many people are employed because of that price. Let’s take the $35 for Stephen King’s new novel. That $35 dollars feeds the author (or, in the case of Mr. Patterson, the people who actually write his books), his agent, his agent’s employees, his editor, the publisher, the publisher’s sales reps, the warehouse people, the mail room staff, marketing and publicity people, all the other people at the publisher (from the cleaning crew to the CEO), the folks at the printer and bindery, the shipper, the various wholesalers’ employees, the bookstore owner and any emplyees, and librarians. People in the book industry generally love their jobs. It’s not a high-paying industry and most bookstores operate on such narrow margins that they barely make any money. Yet they provide a cultural hub for their communities (something Amazon and Wal-Mart do not), and often provide a venue for book lovers to meet authors. Anytime you buy a book (or any product), just remember that you are providing jobs as well as getting days of entertainment that can live forever on your shelf to be revisited at will or passed on to another book lover.

    • Mel

      That’s absolutely precious; truly, you bring a tear to my eye. I’m still not paying $35 for a book I will read once then let linger in a box or closet somewhere until I finally donate it to the library’s used book sale, at which point someone will buy it for $1. Poor economics.

      • Portia

        I hope you don’t bother spendng money on food. After all, you only eat it once and excrete it out. Bad economics there. Do you ever pay to go to the movies? $10 for 90 minutes, and you don’t even get to take the movie home with you. Do you buy gas? That’s a waste. Forty bucks to fill up your tank, and once you’ve driven somewhere it’s all gone. At least you get to keep the book, pass it along to a friend, donate it or sell it to a used book store, where it will continue to employ even more people.

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