In light of Amazon’s decision regarding Print-on-Demand services that are not their own, and the mutterings of “anti-trust” and grumblings of “lawsuit” following that decision, an article in the Washington Post last weekend caught many a Bitchery reader’s eye. Thanks to Jill and Mary for giving me the heads up about this story: who battles whom in the bookstore wars?
Used to be that independents battled the Big Book stores. Now, the Big Books are in danger, as well as the independents, as shoppers start taking a look for books at Target, Costco, and other very inexpensive vendors.
Costco, Target, Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club aren’t just moving in for the kill with big discounts on the latest Stephen King or John Grisham page-turners. They are also engaging the culturally connected, targeting readers who delight in cocktail or book-club conversation about the latest titles. About 34 percent of book buyers made purchases at such locations last year, according to the Simmons National Consumer Survey.
Costco, I admit, sucks me in with their big long table of books, like a potential discount trough of paperback and hardback possibilities. Costco, in my experience, is half a good deal and half the illusion of a good deal. I think I’m getting a better deal by buying 47 pounds of tatertots, but ultimately, it’s the same price, or fractionally less, for just more product that I have to find room for in my house.
But the Target part, that fascinates me. Most analyses that I’ve read of Target’s shopping demographic show an affluent core of customers who can pay more for various items, but repeatedly visit Target for day-to-day needs. It’s like a grocery store for some food staples, basic appliances, and most sundries. So if book shoppers are headed there, and their selection is more than just the top 10 books from any given best-seller list, Big Book retailers will certainly feel the loss:
Costco regularly hosts authors to promote books. Those who have appeared or are scheduled to appear with new books at Costco stores include Ken Burns, Bill Clinton, Barbara Walters, Jose Canseco, Harlan Coben and Newt Gingrich.
Seth Gitell, a Boston journalist and political analyst, wrote on his blog last year that he had dropped by a local Costco “to purchase some delicious whitefish salad” but noticed a sign promoting, of all things, a book signing by Burns. Gitell “couldn’t believe that Burns would be making an appearance here of all places,” he wrote. “But here he was. Burns sat dressed neatly in a blue blazer in front of a large display of Vizio 60-inch and 42-inch big-screen HDTVs as eager fans lined up to meet him.”
One of the points I remember from Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed is that in the US, the affluent have the luxury of driving farther to pursue a bargain. So it makes some sense that the money in sales is to be found at the discount stores, even and including for books. So the terrain of the war for book sales shifts yet again – and I wonder what will happen to the independent bookstores in this country.