I wonder which business needed the sale more?
I myself am guilty of buying bargain books from Tescos and ASDA - the entire James Bond canon in a handsome box for £15, this years Beano annual for £7. And that's not to mention the box set of three Agatha Christie paperbacks for £5 and similar box sets of Bernard Cornwell, Alister Maclean and Jack Higgins. I use the word "guilty" because whilst it makes perfect financial sense to buy these bargain sets, it could be damaging the long term viability of the book industry.
In the US Walmart are in a bitter price war with Borders and Amazon. It's all great for the book loving consumer but the rewards may be simply short term. The humble old book if facing an uncertain future as it is without it being devalued so. The latest news from the US is that the Justice Department are going to look into the book price war.
"Turmoil over the book price war took a new turn today when the Justice Department was asked to investigate what a booksellers group called “illegal predatory pricing.”The American Booksellers Association sent a letter dated Oct. 22 in which it says, “We believe that Amazon.com, Wal-Mart, and Target are using these predatory pricing practices to attempt to win control of the market for hardcover bestsellers.”
Meanwhile here in the UK the bargains continue to tempt and not just online but in all the major supermarkets. Now cheap box sets of backlist books, that is titles where the publisher and author have already made their money, are fine and represent a better deal to the consumer. After all why should we be expected to pay top price for a paperback of a book first published decades ago? But the pricing of brand new books by big name authors to entice customers, some supermarkets even treat books as loss leaders, is damaging to the industry as a whole.
It's already difficult enough for a new author to break through and the current trend could make it impossible.
After all why take a chance on a new author when you can buy the latest Stephen King, Stephanie Meyer or John Grisham for a meagre sum?
So what do we do? Boycott these cheap books? That's not going to happen and it would be a rare book lover who would happily pay top price for a book in order to safeguard the industry. It's perplexing sure enough -I'm all for bargains and I believe that anything of such an age, no matter how popular, should be much cheaper than the original price. But not if it means that in a few short years nothing other than the biggest names will be published.
Alas what is the answer? Do we need the return of something like the NET book agreement? Or should the free market be allowed to run its course?