Halloween is upon us again, and that means only one thing: We are a mere month away from the all-American phenomenon known as Black Friday. Yes, each year, to kick off the holiday season, millions of people will loosen their belt buckles and fight the effects of tryptophan to flood the Big Box stores in the dark of morning. They will wait in long lines, belching and blurry-eyed, for the poor schmuck with the short straw to turn the key in the lock, at which time they will trample her and each other just to get their dick beaters on a discounted Nintendo Wii.
At least, that was the Item To Die For last year. This year, they'll be bludgeoning each other for books all because Wal-Mart—the wealthy corporation famous for keeping health insurance safely out of the reach of its under-employed workers—has unilaterally created a public option, of sorts, for readers.
Here's how the gig went down: Last week, Wal-Mart announced it would slash the cost of certain highly anticipated hard-cover books at its online store from the suggested retail price of $25 to a much-reduced price equivalent to the amount modern-day kids receive from the Tooth Fairy. Not to be outsold, Amazon matched Wal-Mart's $10 price on the same titles, at which point Wal-Mart called Amazon's bluff and knocked off an additional dollar. Take that, bitches! Amazon didn't flinch and the pissing match continued until Target bellied up to the table and, now, all three companies have called it at $8.99. Plus free shipping. Bargain-addicted shoppers are salivating. Authors are horrified.
Now, I was as startled as the next person to hear this outrageous story. They can't be fucking serious, I thought. Wal-Mart actually sells books? To whom? Do Wal-Mart shoppers even know how to read?
Oh, I heckle the Wal-Mart shoppers. Of course, they know how to read. And now, thanks to Extreme Price Slashing, The Corporate Edition, they will be able to indulge that first-grade reading level on the cheap: The former first gal of Alaska's Going Rogue is among the 10 or so hard-covers being offered at black-market prices. Despite the steep discount, Wal-Mart will surely make a mint after Oprah finishes dry-humping the former-governor-turned-essayist on Nov. 16.
(One note of caution to the pitbull's foolish fans: You might think you're getting a deal on this one, but actually you're getting hosed—$8.99 is precisely $8.99 more than what the ghost-written tale is worth, and you'll lose even more on your investment after your visit to the ballot box. And is it me or does the former McCain sidekick look more like a tranny with each passing day?)
We're talking eight dollars and 99 cents for seven years of research and toil and writing and cutting and crying and gnawing and lamenting and lifeblood that surely went into the gifted Barbara Kingsolver's pending new novel, The Lacuna. This devaluation of work is a brutal injustice to the Kingsolvers and the Grishams and the Pattersons (though, for the record, the latter two aren't exactly wading in the same talent pool as Kingsolver). Even—and I cannot believe I am going to say this—even Dan Brown and his formulaic prose deserve better than $8.99 on new releases (no comment on the vile Twilight series). After all, it's these and a few other elite, established authors who make up the foundation for the rest of the publishing industry.
“So, consequently, you are selling off the family jewels,” David Young, CEO and Chairman of Hachette Book Group told NPR. “It's a strange thing: Most new products entering a market are sold at a premium, not as discount….” This cannot be much incentive to these and other writers and puts the future of publishing in an even more precarious situation than it was already in.
And the scenario is even more depressing when you consider the impact of this dubious price setting on the beloved independent bookstores around the country. At risk of extinction is the proverbial little guy who already competes against the giant corporations and for whom we all like to root. According to another NPR report, booksellers purchase their inventory at a wholesale rate of roughly $12.72 (it's unclear whether Wal-Mart, et al. have struck a better deal). Sure, there's room to bring down the price on a newly released title. But you don't have to be literate to know the independents can't afford to play this game.
The line in the sand has been drawn, and it's probably too soon to say with complete certainty what the outcome of this battle will be. But given the state of our economy—and the depth of the pain suffered by American consumers enduring flat wages, widespread furloughs, near-record unemployment, rising healthcare costs—and our unflagging appetite for the best deal on new stuff, it probably isn't hard to guess.
The moral imperative clearly lies with the consumers, who need to carefully think this one through before throwing elbows during the upcoming shopping season. We must ask ourselves what it is we value. Do we sell our souls or enrich them? If the answer is the latter, we must either hang onto our dollars (sign up for that library card) or speak with them (hello, D.G. Wills, I'd like to order The Lacuna, please).
If we don't, somebody's bound to get hurt. And that somebody is all of us suckers the big conglomerates are counting on as they secure their monopoly and world dominance over—oh—only everything. Mwahahahahahaha. Haha. Ha.
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