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A new hardcover book by a favorite author can be an exciting thing for a fan to find in the bookstore. The thrill of grabbing a copy and being the first to crack it open as you sit down and begin to lose yourself in the story is timeless and priceless.

But this tableau may have a price and expiration date. Stephen King’s rabid fans always make his newest novel a best seller, and bookstores have long counted on such popular authors to generate reliable sales and profits. Yet technology and competition have made significant inroads that have moved the status of those expectations.

For example, a popular alternative to hardcover books is e-books, purchased and read on handheld devices like Amazon’s Kindle. Because they do not require expensive production materials, like paper and glue, e-books are significantly cheaper to produce and thus can sell for a significantly lower price than conventional books (e.g., around $9.99 for popular new books like King’s).

As a proponent of independent booksellers, King arranged for the hardcover edition of his latest book, Under the Dome, to be published six weeks before the electronic version is available. That way, fans who don’t want to wait can purchase the hardcover, helping traditional bookstores. The industry is waiting in great anticipation to discover the consumer response to a time lag in the introduction of the electronic versions of anticipated books.

But whereas King can dictate arrival dates for his hardcover and electronic editions, he has no control over what large retailers do with his book. Amazon, Target and Walmart are all offering Under The Dome as a loss leader, at around $9.00—a 74 percent discount off the basic hardcover price of $35. It seems that the publishing industry and its pricing structure will never be the same, and we’re here to see the start of the shift.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Will people wait six weeks to get an electronic edition when they can preorder a book itself for a dollar less?
  2. Are bookstores outdated?

Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg, “Publisher Delays Stephen King e-Book,” Wall Street Journal, October 22, 2009.