MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Have we got a deal for you. If you're looking to buy a book, there's a price war on. As NPR's Lynn Neary reports, over the past few days, the book industry has been reeling as it watches some of its hottest commodities drop to new lows.
LYNN NEARY: The price war took off last week when Wal-Mart, in a bid to compete with Amazon for the online market, cut its prices for online pre-orders of 10 upcoming bestsellers to $10. Amazon responded by bringing its price down to $10. So Wal-Mart lowered the price to $9. Amazon followed suit. By Friday afternoon, Wal-Mart dropped its price to $8.99. Then, on Monday, Target joined the fray, announcing it, too, would sell online pre-orders for certain bestsellers at $8.99. Kelly Basgen is the spokesperson for Target.
Ms. KELLY BASGEN (Spokesperson, Target): So, it's always our goal to be competitively priced and we want our guests to know that they get a great value at Target and on Target.com. So we followed the competition's price cuts last Friday, and decided yesterday we should go ahead and match the prices on these 10 books.
NEARY: Now, Wal-Mart has taken another tiny step: lowering the price of most of these books by another penny. Al Greco, a Fordham University professor who studies the publishing business, says this price war could have a serious ripple effect on all booksellers.
Professor AL GRECO (Marketing, Fordham University School of Business): This cuts into book-buying at retail stores, supermarkets, convenience stores, the bookstore chains - especially hit hard will be the independent bookstores who are unable to discount to that level.
NEARY: Ironically, says David Young, chairman and CEO of Hachette Book Group, this price war is focused on bestselling authors like John Grisham, Barbara Kingsolver, and other potentially lucrative books, which provide the underpinning for the rest of the industry.
Mr. DAVID YOUNG (Chairman and CEO, Hachette Book Group): And so consequently, you are selling off, if you like, the family jewels. It's a strange thing. Most new products entering a market are sold at a premium, not at a discount, and that's the danger that we face with discounting the very things that should be the market leaders.
NEARY: One of the authors whose books has been discounted is James Patterson. Patterson says he's concerned about how this price war could potentially affect what is published in the future. He compares the situation to the film industry.
Mr. JAMES PATTERSON (Author): If all new movies will come out this weekend and imagine if somebody was selling DVDs of the same movie for $5, it kind of changes everything. And to some extent, they wouldn't be able to afford to make movies. So, it's big stuff.
NEARY: Shoppers at a Target store in Washington, D.C., today were vaguely aware of the book price wars. And many, like Nancy Bramson(ph) said, yeah, they could get used to lower prices for books.
Ms. NANCY BRAMSON: Yeah, if they're $8.99? Yeah, that's better than Costco.
NEARY: And that, says Hachette CEO David Young, is exactly what the book industry is afraid of.
Mr. YOUNG: This real aggressive price deflation is something that people will become more widely aware of, and then the acceptance of $10 being a price for a new book would have a very harmful effect on our business.
NEARY: Young says he hopes the prices announced this week are only temporary and not the norm.
Lynn Neary, NPR News, Washington.