Amazon, Overstock Print-Book Price War Could Cut eBook Costs

Amazon and Overstock have both reduced prices on some print bestsellers by more than 50 percent. That's great news for people who want paper books, but CIO.com blogger Bill Snyder says it could also mean cheaper eBooks.

Depending on your age, you may or may not remember the days when the books you read were published on paper. Even if you don't, there is a reason to pick up an actual paper book again. A price war between Amazon and Overstock.com is cutting the prices of many print books in half, and in some cases, below the price of the eBook versions.

It all started last week when Overstock promised customers that it would beat Amazon’s prices on print books by 10 percent, based on the prices advertised on Amazon on July 22. In response, Amazon apparently dropped many prices by 10 percent. I say "apparently" because Amazon never announced any official price cut, but a trade publication called Shelf Awareness says the massive price cutting is in response to Overstock's move.

"Yesterday Amazon.com quietly began discounting many bestselling hardcover titles between 50 percent and 65 percent, levels we've never seen in the history of Amazon or in the bricks-and-mortar price wars of the past," Shelf Awareness reported.

eBook fans might also want to pay attention for another reason. The drop in print prices seems to be pushing down the cost of bits-and-bytes books too, according to a survey by Gigaom. Here’s the price comparison from early this week:

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Gigaom's Laura Hazard Owen noticed that Amazon cut prices on books that are also sold by Overstock, a company that does not sell eBooks.

Amazon/Overstock skirmish aside, a much larger battle is brewing in book publishing. Apple has been found guilty of scheming to fix prices of eBooks in collaboration with a number of major print publishers. The U.S. Department of Justice says Apple’s actions hurt consumers by raising the price of eBooks.

That may be true, but I have mixed feelings about the decision. Amazon has an enormous amount of clout, Even if the online giant helps consumers by keeping prices low, it ultimately forces less popular titles out of market and kills brick-and-mortar bookstores. 

If nothing else, neighborhood bookstores let you browse a wide selection of titles, many of which you may never have heard of. Some bookstores, including one of my favorites here in San Francisco, are also in the eBook business.

It’s not only bookstores that Amazon's killing; major publishing houses are disappearing, and others are merging, including Penguin and Random House.

As a writer, it makes me happy when people read, and it’s good to see competition making it even easier to get your hands on a good book.

Image: Gigaom.com

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