So the long-awaited follow-up to the Da Vinci Code is about to be "released". Embargoes have been broken already by reviewers, half-price advance orders have been taken before publication – and now there's a new Brownesque twist in the story: not the usual price competition but an all-out war between retailers. The big W – and even the mighty Amazon – have been caught by surprise by the supermarkets' slashing from £18.99 to as little as £5.00. The Book Depository entered this loss-making competition and announced today that they'd be selling The Lost Symbol for just under a fiver. Obviously it didn't take Amazon long to follow suit and match that price – even retrospectively for the books already preordered… Insane. It is evident that online retailers are exposed to exactly the same dangers as high-street retailers when they try to compete with the supermarkets on discounts.
The Lost Symbol is yet another lost opportunity (for publishers and booksellers). I am pretty sure that many people would have happily paid the full price for it. But intellectual property is being degraded and devalued so much these days, in this brave new Internet world of free music, free news and – soon – free books that it will be even more of a struggle for anybody concerned (authors, publishers, journalists, bookshops, distributors etc.) to survive.
"Bring the Net Book Agreement back!" cries a voice in the desert. You think it won't work? Can it get worse than this? The fixed price is still in place in many European countries, and it could make the difference in UK, too, where publishers and retailers seem to have lost any sense of reality and are prepared to sacrifice profits and margins for that magical words – "sales" and "market share".
When we all go bust, and the majority of readers download books illegally from the Internet rather than buy them from shops, they'll realize that 100% of zero is zero.
Read here my post about Barbers' Wars.