A few days ago Walmart took belated notice of the contract dispute and started taking advantage. Walmart doesn't carry many titles in store, but they do have an extensive selection of books on their website. According to the email they sent out to the press:
Earlier this week, Walmart reached out to customers to alert them about the online, in-stock availability of their favorite books from Hachette Publishing Group. All books are available online at the everyday low price, which is 40% off the cover price.
We’ve seen a strong customer reaction since alerting them to Walmart’s in-stock availability, with a 70% sales lift for our books category on Walmart.com.
We’re committed to making it easy for our customers to have access to a broad assortment of the products they want, at the low prices they want – including copies of their favorite books that they might not be able to get elsewhere.
Walmart is the third retailer, following Books-a-Million and Zola Books, to take advantage of the ongoing contract dispute between Amazon and Hachette. This dispute has been going on since November 2013 but only went public in early May 2014.
The latest estimates place Walmart's total online sales in the 10 billion dollar range, far smaller than Amazon, but as everyone knows the key to growing that figure is to attract and keep customers. And Amazon gave Walmart another opportunity to steal customers.
And the same goes for Books-a-Million.
This bookseller launched a new section on their website on Friday which focuses on Hachette titles and features discounts of up to 40%, in some cases. This announcement comes in addition to Books-a-Million’s commitment to offer their customers a discount of up to 30% off a wide selection of Hachette Book Group pre-order titles. The discount is Books-a-Million’s way of poking their larger competitor in the eye while also securing better terms for themselves.
But will they be able to keep those terms, once this is said and done?
It's not clear that they will, nor even that this will be an effective tactic against Amazon. Both Books-a-Million's and Walmart's book sales are negligible, and in the long run neither party is likely to compete as aggressively as Amazon. One cannot afford it, while the other has too many other product categories (including more profitable ones) to keep its attention focused on marketing books.
And even if Walmart did decide to make books their focus for building up online sales (hey, it worked for Amazon) I'm not sure that publishers are really going to like the idea of an even bigger and scarier retailer aggressively discounting books. That is less likely to squash Amazon than to steal market share from smaller competitors and independents.
The US book market could end up being dominated by two huge retailers, with even fewer small fry to balance them out. That doesn't strike me as being a better situation than what we have now.
image by Thomas's Pics