Wal-Mart, Amazon Trade Price Cuts On Books


Wal-Mart has launched an online price war with Amazon.com. Some popular hardback books are being marketed for around $9 on both retailers' websites. The price war is making book selling increasingly difficult for brick and mortar chains and independents.

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One item consumers are paying less for, though, is books when they buy them online. That's because Amazon and Wal-Mart are locked in a price war, and that includes big-name authors. John Grisham's yet-to-be released book, "Ford County" lists at $24. Last week, Wal-Mart dropped the price to $9. Amazon matched that. Now WalMart.com is selling the book for $8.99.

From member station KEOW in Seattle, Patricia Murphy reports on what's new about this price war and what's not.

PATRICIA MURPHY: For years, Amazon's everything-plus-the-kitchen-sink marketplace has been a leader in book sales. Some analysts speculate that Wal-Mart's attack on this niche is just an old play in a new forum for the company - that is, drawing customers in with deep discounts in the hopes they pick up more than just a cheap book. Patricia Edwards is chief investment officer for the investment firm Storehouse Partners in Bellevue, Washington.

Ms. PATRICIA EDWARDS (Chief Investment Officer, Storehouse Partners): Wal-Mart has a history over the past three or four years with toy discounts starting in October, and then they start in on the other holiday items. And so folks like Target and Sears and J.C. Penney have been dealing with that for years now. This time, it's Amazon's turn.

MURPHY: The losers, Edwards says, will be publishers and independent booksellers. Ultimately, Edwards says, publishers won't be selling as many books at full price, and that cuts into their bottom line.

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MURPHY: At Fremont Place Books in Seattle, owner Henry Burton says he doesn't even try to compete with online sellers like Amazon and Wal-Mart.

Mr. HENRY BURTON (Owner, Fremont Place Books): Well, we compete on the service and selection, and my hope is they just sort of battle each other out of business.

For NPR News, I'm Patricia Murphy in Seattle.

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