Money Matters - Simplified

Amazon Sees Green in Brown

It may not feature young wizards or teen bloodsuckers, but Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol is still drawing cheers from the book industry.

The latest entry from The Da Vinci Code's author hit stores yesterday, and it's already the top draw at (Nasdaq: AMZN) and the online storefronts of Barnes & Noble (NYSE: BKS) and Borders Group (NYSE: BGP).

I don't get it, though. Who's buying this book at or They both sell the hardcover version for $17.97, a
seemingly thick 40% slice off the list price. Amazon, on the other
hand, is selling copies for just $16.17 apiece. Barnes & Noble
shoppers can nab Amazon's price, but only if they pay $25 a year to be
part of the chain's membership program.

I understand the flexibility to charge more at the physical
storefronts. If you're at a Barnes & Noble or Borders superstore,
you expect to pay more for instant gratification and the actual
distance between real-world alternatives.

But cyberspace, where every competitor is a click away, is a
different story. Naturally, the bookstore chains have a quandary. If
their online discounts are too steep -- the only way that they will
ever compete against -- they risk making shoppers at their
 bricks-and-mortar stores feel cheated. Then again, this can't-win
scenario also explains why Amazon can't lose.

It also doesn't hurt that Amazon's Kindle is making dead-tree books
a thing of the past. Since yesterday, Amazon's top-selling item has
actually been the Kindle version of The Lost Symbol.

This doesn't necessarily mean that Amazon will move more $9.99
digital copies than $16.17 hardcover versions. Amazon's bestseller list
is updated hourly, and hardcover preorders have been selling briskly
for months. Kindle owners can preorder books, but why would they?
There's never any question whether a Kindle file will be available in
Amazon's inventory, and digital deliveries are completed within a

Digital delivery is inevitable. Beyond Amazon, Sony (NYSE: SNE) is a spirited competitor in this market, with Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) and Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) taking baby steps in e-books' direction as well.

How profitable can the market be? Will publishers be able to make
more at lower price points, given the inherent cost savings of digital
delivery over physical printing, shipping, and swallowing down of
returns? That's a thrilling page-turner that even Brown can't


© 2009 UCLICK, L.L.C