In the latest skirmish in the e-book war, Scribner announced this week that it will delay the e-book release of EW columnist and perennial best-seller Stephen King’s new novel, Under the Dome, until Dec. 24. That’s almost six weeks after the hardcover edition goes on sale November 10. “We think that this publishing sequence gives us the opportunity to maximize hardcover sales and at the same time allows people who receive a reading device or gift certificates as a holiday gift to enjoy the digital edition,” says Adam Rothberg, a spokesman for Scribner (an imprint of Viacom’s Simon & Schuster). In an exclusive comment to EW, the author himself was more blunt: “It’s time to give the smaller bookstores a little breathing room (although not much chance of that, with Walmart offering Dome for nine bucks.)” He’s referring to the fact that Walmart (as well as Amazon and Target) this week began offering his book, along with nine hot titles, for as little as $8.98. The retail price of King’s book is $35, which means these retailers are taking a loss on each book.
King is not alone in his concern about the impact the $9 price wars will have on traditional booksellers. The recent price-chopping has led the American Booksellers Association, which represents independent bookstores, to file an official complaint with the U.S. Justice Department, charging that the three retail behemoths are engaging in “illegal predatory pricing.” In a letter released yesterday, the ABA went on to say that the practice was “damaging to the book industry and harmful to consumers.” A top publishing executive tells EW: “They had no choice. Bookstores are simply under siege. On one side, they’re facing the threat of e-books, and on the other they’re staring in the face of these three ugly superpowers.” David Young, the CEO of Hachette Book Group USA (publisher of James Patterson’s upcoming I, Alex Cross, another one of the $8.98 titles), told the New York Times: “I do think this massive devaluation of the industry’s crown jewels could very quickly be extremely harmful. And I would not be alone in thinking that.”
How can traditional bookstores compete against giant retailers who are willing to sell books at a loss (a luxury that books-only retailers can’t afford to do)? And is it fair for publishers to fight back by delaying the release of e-book versions of new titles like Under the Dome? What do you think?