January 14 – January 21, 2010 Edition

Christian Retailers Seek Book Pricing Investigation

AUTHORLINK NEWS/01/13/10–The Christian Booksellers Association (CBA), last week asked the Department of Justice to investigate what they call "illegal, predatory pricing" by, Target and Wal-Mart. Similar actions have been taken by the American Booksellers Association.

The CBA, representing thousands of Christian publishers in all 50 states, is concerned that pre-sales of new books by popular authors are being sold at a loss by retail giants attempting to control the market for hardcover bestsellers. In a letter to the Justice Department, the CBA cited Stephen King’s new "Under the Dome" as an example. The book typically retails for as much as $35, costs store owners $17.50 but was sold for between $8.98 and $9 by the three retailers.

", Wal-Mart, and Target are using predatory pricing practices in what appears to be an attempt to control the market for hardcover bestsellers," the CBA board of directors wrote in the letter to the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division.

In an article at Christianity Today, Eric Grimm, business development manager at CBA (formerly known as the Christian Booksellers association), said Christian retailers have long been concerned about competitors’ pricing strategies, and called the letter a "pre-emptive" action before the competition for Christian books grows even more challenging.

"What we want to do is establish that this is an unfair practice so that when the next big blockbuster comes out of a Christian book that they won’t do the same thing," he said.

The larger retailers, for their part, say they’re just trying to give the customers the best deal they can.

"I think it’s worth noting that there is no investigation," said Greg Rossiter, a spokesman for Wal-Mart. "We’re serving our customers and, in terms of any legal concerns, we also work to follow applicable laws."

Added Target spokeswoman Leah Guimond: "Target is firmly committed to respecting all laws and operating in compliance with all legal and regulatory standards. Within this context, we seek to be competitive in the marketplace."

CBA is the trade association for the Christian Retail Channel, serving the interests of thousands of member Christian retailers, publishers, music labels, and gift distributors.

The CBA letter follows a similar request for a Justice Department investigation by the American Booksellers Association, which cited deeply discounted pre-sales of new books by King, former vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin and novelist John Grisham by the same three retailers.

"The entire book industry is in danger of becoming collateral damage in this war," the ABA’s board of directors wrote in an Oct. 22 letter.

According to Christianity Today both The Justice Department and Amazon declined comment on both letters.

Grimm said customers at Christian stores mistakenly think they are being charged too much for some books, not realizing store owners would have to shut their doors if they sold them at the same prices as big- box stores, the news organization reported.

"The case is they can’t buy at the same level or process that everybody else can buy, so that puts them at a disadvantage," he said. "People are using pricing as a strategy to control the market or put other people out of business."