Chain store retailers will report sales for October and fiscal third quarters tomorrow, but the Wall Street Journal noted encouraging signs as the holiday season approaches. Retail Metrics projected a 1.9% increase in October sales over the same month last year, while Thomson Reuters predicted a 2% increase.
"There's generally momentum in the business," said Leslie Wexner, CEO of Limited Brands Inc., which operates Victoria's Secret and Bath & Body Works.
"The confidence is just beginning to come back to the business," added Glenn Murphy, Gap's CEO. "We're walking a little taller."
The book trade experienced its own version of "scoreboard watching" yesterday as the retail price for John Grisham's newly released Ford County fluctuated, thanks to price maneuvers by Amazon and Wal-Mart.
"It was a weird day in the book price wars," the Associated Press reported, noting that the price of Grisham's short story collection "moved up and down like stock market shares as rivals Amazon.com and Walmart.com extended, then rescinded, their high discounts for top-selling pre-orders."
While Amazon was offering the book for $9, "Walmart.com was selling Ford County for $12 early Tuesday, then cut the price to the pre-order discount of $8.98," the AP wrote. "By Tuesday afternoon, the cost was back up to $11.99 for both online sellers." Target.com's price was $15.
A blow-by-blow account of the price standoff was also featured in the New York Times, which tracked three Tuesday releases--Grisham's Ford County, Barbara Kingsolver's The Lacuna and J. D. Robb's Kindred in Death.
As of Tuesday morning, "Amazon still had those titles priced at $9 while Wal-Mart, which had offered them on pre-order at $8.98, and Target, which had offered pre-orders for $8.99, had raised their prices. At Walmart.com, for example, Ford County was selling for $12, while The Lacuna was $13.50. At Target.com, The Lacuna was on sale for $18.89 and Kindred in Death was $17. But by late morning, Amazon had raised its prices--The Lacuna and Kindred in Death, for example, were offered for $13.50--while Walmart.com had cut them again. All three novels that went on sale Tuesday were on sale at Walmart.com for $8.99, but by the afternoon, Walmart.com had raised its prices to just one penny lower than the price for the three titles on Amazon."
This morning, Amazon and Target were selling Ford County for $11.99 and Wal-Mart offered the title for $11.98. Lacuna and Kindred in Death were priced in the $13.49 range, give or take a penny.
As the book pricing wars slog on, independent booksellers in the Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn., area discussed the issue with MinnPost.com.
"It doesn't seem to be in anyone's best interest to be heading toward a future where it may be impossible for writers to earn a living and where it's difficult for publishers to exist," said Martin Schmutterer, assistant manager at Common Good Books, St. Paul.
He also noted that changes in the newspaper and music industries have already shown "there's only so much you can give away at a loss without ultimately destroying the business. These companies are telling consumers that a book should only cost so much, and if it does cost more, it's not worth it. The fact that it costs more to produce that book than they're selling it for is irrelevant to them."
Gary Shulze of Once Upon a Crime bookstore, Minneapolis, observed that loss-leader pricing strategies are "turning books into a commodity and demeaning the value of a book," but he does not plan to change his ordering habits. "Let people buy those bestsellers at the discount stores; we specialize in books people might not see at other stores. If you left it to the marketers, pretty soon only the top 10 books would be available."
In Boulder, Colo., 9NEWS checked in with Arsen Kashkashian, head buyer at the Boulder Book Store, for his take on the price wars.
"It's never really happened like this before," he said, noting that he had planned to buy extra copies of the hyper-discounted titles. "From the publishers, a $35 book is going to cost us $18 or $19. So if Target or Amazon wants to sell it for $9, then maybe I can buy 20, 30, 40 copies for the store, he said. "It would have lowered our cost by $500."
Unfortunately, Amazon, Target and Wal-Mart quickly installed rationing policies to discourage such plans. "I don't think they wanted to be the wholesaler," said Kashkashian. "They're looking to capture that piece of the market. But they're not willing to stand behind the price."
Good news for Mary Alice and Marvin Schaefer, whose Books With a Past bookshop, Glenwood, Md., was set to close last weekend (Shelf Awareness, October 30, 2009). Erin Matthews will assume ownership of the store December 1. Marvin learned Friday afternoon that Matthews' bank loan had been approved, according to ExploreHoward.com
"She has come through and we are all so happy," he said. "We are resuming buying books. We are here and we are going to stay here."
Marjorie Rosen, author of Boom Town: How Wal-Mart Transformed an All-American Town into an International Community (Chicago Review Press), says that event offers from two libraries in northwest Arkansas were "rescinded after library trustees expressed concern over how the book portrays Wal-Mart," the Arkansas Times reported. Rosen's book "features interviews with Bentonville residents who have seen their lives touched by the rise of Sam Walton's mega-corporation."
Who is Terry Linwood? The correct Jeopardy! answer is that he's a supervisor at Half Price Books, Plano, Tex., who recently won $122,705 on the television game show. The Dallas Morning News reported that the five episodes on which Linwood accumulated his winnings were recently aired, though filming took place two months ago. He had to keep the story of his success a secret until now.
Linwood is "ranked Number 17 on the list of victors who've won the most money on Jeopardy!, which has been on the air in its current form since 1984," the Morning News wrote. "He'll probably return later this season to compete with other top competitors on the show's Tournament of Champions."
NPR's website debuted a new feature, "What We're Reading: Staff Picks of Standout Books," promising to offer readers "our book team's shortlist of new fiction and non-fiction releases, along with candid reactions from our reporters, hosts and critics."
The virtual red carpet may not be out for Amazon's Kindle in Norway. "Norway's Consumer Council reckons the Kindle breaches Norwegian law, and will have to change radically before any local launch," the Register reported, adding that the council "has been trawling through Amazon's terms and conditions for the Kindle, and notes that the very language used is probably illegal, as Norwegian law requires such contracts to be clearly written."
Has "chick lit" found a new role model? The Guardian observed that "the latest publishing phenomenon to sweep America, which has just arrived over here, features a new heroine: the young woman who is seriously overweight--and doesn't care."