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In genuinely bad news for self-published authors . . .

Amazon, WalMart, and Target are in a book price war, further commodifying and cheapening the value of published books. WalMart started the war by offering ten upcoming bestsellers — including highly-anticipated tomes by Sarah Palin and Michael Crichton — at the incredibly low price of $10 each for pre-orders. Amazon responded by dropping the price on pre-ordering these books to $9; WalMart matched it the same day, and Amazon responded by dropping the price a penny. Target joined in at $8.99 and Amazon dropped the preorder price another penny.

Money quote:

While consumers and the retailers are bullish about the discounts, it’s the book business that’s throwing a fit. “The fear is that people get used to paying less for books than it costs to make them, which puts downward price pressure on everything,” says Michael Norris, a publishing-industry analyst for research firm Simba Information.

While Amazon, Target, and WalMart are trying to light a fire under book sales during a recession year, this shows that the rule, “information wants to be free,” is driving down book prices to a point where only the dumbest survive — the Dan Brown’s and the Sarah Palin’s. For those in specialty areas, or for underappreciated but massively talented self-published authors, this is bad news, indeed. The long-tail of the entertainment industry really depends on people valuing the experience, something less likely to happen the more books, music, and films become commodities rather than indelible experiences.

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