Posted by: Tony Carson | 21 October, 2009

Pitched Battle Over Books!

We’ve all tramped into a store anxious to get in and get out only to be delayed by a clerk taking a phone call from a potential customer at home on her couch. Makes the blood boil.

But so would this. You go into your neighbourhood bookstore, get the book you wanted, pay for it and then when you get home you find out that you could have typed in your order and saved 50-70%.

It’s as if the new commercial paradigm is to reward indolence. Your choice: weave through the aisle at Wal-Mart, then queue for the check-out before the battle in the parking lot … or speed dial your order from your Laz-y-Boy.

In fact, this very choice is now on offer over books. Books!

Ironic is far too weak a word. Astonishing isn’t strong enough. At a time when literacy levels are at an all-time low (almost half of Canada is functionally illiterate) and Wal-Mart shopper are being pilloried on-line for their other-worldyness, the wiz-bangs at the Box Stores have decided to fight a pitched battle over words, presumably the 20,000 or so that still remain in use.

The target is Amazon. Everyone wants a piece of Amazon, not literally, of course, there aren’t any pieces of Amazon, it’s etherial, a cyberstore, but they want a piece of its action. Especially during the Christmas season which, in some places, has already begun.

According to the Cheapskate Blog on Time, retailers had one of their worst Christmas seasons ever last year with shopper traffic down 27% and luxury goods off 35% from the previous year. But e-commerce fell only 2%.

So the Pavlovian response was inevitable and immediate: imitate. There has been a significant move on-line anyway in recent years, these statistics simply added greater urgency.

So the battle lines were drawn over books. First, Wal-Mart slashed its on-line price for many best-selling titles to sub $10, down from the $30-40 bucks the sucker who showed up has to pay. Target, another emporium noted for its literary variety, reacted by on-lining some pre-orders for $8.99, inspiring Wal-Mart to let the penny drop to $8.98.

Poor Amazon. It comes up with a way of screwing the writers and the box stores come up with a way of screwing it.

But good for the consumer. $8.98 for a just-issued hard back, 400 page book is a bit of a bargain … and then some. It gets you to thinking:

“Do-it-yourself materials for roll-out insulation batting in an open attic can run around $500, depending on R-values, attic size and other factors.”

You do the math.

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