BOOKS
03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Price Wars, eReader Wars: Will They Hurt Books?

Yesterday, Barnes & Noble unveiled their new eReader, the Nook. The sleek new model is the latest in a series of new eReaders popping up recently to compete with Amazon's Kindle. Kindle has long held the market on eReaders, but that might not last much longer. On Monday, Spring Design unveiled Alex, the first Google Android-based eReader, and Plastic Logic also announced recently the name of its new eReader, the Que. These new announcements follow last month's unveiling of a US-based iRex eReader, which is powered and backed by Best Buy and Verizon, and which, iRex recently announced, will allow readers access to 1,100 newspapers and periodicals.

The appearance of all these new competitors suggests that Amazon might not own the market for e-books for long, and also that eReaders are coming into the mainstream, with cool new models and legitimate options. The New York Times suggests that the new e-book flurry is benefiting reading as a whole; Amazon

[S]ays that people with Kindles now buy 3.1 times as many books as they did before owning the device.

But are people just gadget-hungry, or is this a real boon for books?

The other war in books this week is in price discounting. Last week, Walmart jumped into competition with Amazon when it announced that certain popular titles -- the blockbusters -- would be available online for $10. This move ignited a price war between Walmart and Amazon, which also started lowering its prices, so that customers can now get these blockbusters for $9 from both sites. The books include only super-popular titles such as Sarah Palin's Going Rogue and Dean Koontz's Breathless, but they are all hardcovers, normally priced for retail between $25 and $30.

On Monday, Target joined the battle when it announced that it too would offer the hottest new books for only $8.99, and it is clear that the wars have not yet come to an end -- after Target's announcement, Walmart dropped down to $8.98. Yesterday, Sears decided to get in on the fun as well, offering their own gigantic discounts. CNN's Money section suggests, however, that it is unwise to compete with Walmart on prices, as they have shown not to have limits when it comes to lowering prices.

How is this war going to affect the book industry? The New York Times details the concerns of publishers and independent booksellers who worry that these moves devalue the hardcover book, as well as take any attention away from non-blockbuster authors and make it extremely difficult for independent bookstores to compete. The Times quotes William Petrocelli, an independent bookstore owner and a blogger for HuffPost Books:

"You have a choke point where millions of writers are trying to reach millions of readers," Mr. Petrocelli said, "but if it all has to go through a narrow funnel where there are only four or five buyers deciding what's going to get published, the business is in trouble."

Book bloggers are also showing consistent concern about the price wars. Yesterday, Pimp My Novel detailed some of the major worries of publishers, and MobyLives pronounces it "capitalism run amok."

Steve Ross, blogging for HuffPost Books, parodied the war on Monday, imagining Amazon to release press statements that said, "Oh yeah?" and Walmart taking on a new position that "if there's going to be a Wal-Mart of the web, it's okay for it to be Amazon." At the bottom of his piece, he offered a call to HuffPost readers:

Where will this pricing war end? Is it in anyone's interests besides the consumers? At what price should inexpensive hardcovers reasonably come -- at the expense of the author's income? The Publisher's ability to stay afloat? The retailer's ability to earn a profit on the transaction? We at the Huffington Post invite -- indeed urge -- you to chime in on this pressing issue.

Amidst all of the wars in the book world this week, who will benefit? What will the new panoply of eReaders do to how we think about and read books? What effect will the price war have on books as we know them, and will the publishing and bookselling world be able to persevere? Let us know what you think!

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