Price Wars Hurt Indies

The Guardian looks at the effects of big box price wars on independent bookstores.

The problem, independent booksellers claim, is that publishers accord huge discounts to bulk buyers such as Amazon and Tesco, but not to anything like the same degree to smaller outlets. So a two-tier system is created, where independents charge more for many titles – they cannot compete with the aggressive price wars engaged in by the giants, and risk going to the wall. And, as the supermarkets increase their market share – from 9% of the book market in 2004 to 12% in 2006, according to the Book Marketing Society – the problem looks likely to grow.

While the savings look good for the consumer, the benefits of these price wars may be short-term at best, according to Jonathan Spencer-Payne, who runs the Peak Bookshop. Independents carry a much greater range of titles, he says, so a greater diversity of authors and books are represented, including traditionally hard-to-shift first novels. "We support publishers with other titles, with the backlist," he says. "The feeling in the independent sector is that publishers aren’t thinking about tomorrow. If independent bookshops disappeared, where would they sell the full range of their books? It would be a terrible indictment on society if one or two sellers sold a limited range of books and they basically picked and chose what people read."

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Is this actually true? While I’ve often been impressed by the good selections in independent bookstores for their relatively small sizes, it’s almost always been my observation that a Barnes and Noble or Borders (especially those in urban downtowns) will have everything an independent bookstore has and much more. Considering the size multiples involved, I don’t see how they couldn’t. Independent bookstores are good for some things, but I don’t think sheer selection and variety is one of them.

I feel you may have a bias as at least half of your links lead to amazon. But, a brother gots to eat, as has been undoubtedly proclaimed at some such juncture, or another.

In my town the independt definitely beats the variety of the chain in their poetry and literary fiction selection. Besides featuring quite a bit from indie presses, and following blogs that mention titles that may not be hyped by the Globe & Mail, they also carry a decent backlist rather than just the latest and greatest. And they really support local authors (especially for poetry).
There are a few authors the chain has them beat on like Banville but that’s a combination of the Booker prize and a passionate employee.

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