Overstock Battles Amazon on Book Prices

The only way to beat Amazon is by playing its game. Here's what happened when Overstock.com tried.

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The only way to beat Amazon is by playing its game, which, for most booksellers, is as simple as it is altogether unfeasible: absurdly low prices.

But that's just what Utah-based competitor Overstock.com did last week, announcing in a press release that it had priced its books "at least 10-percent below Amazon.com's prices, as of July 22, 2013."

But then Amazon did what Amazon does best: it lowered its prices even more, rupturing Overstock's claim to offer the best book prices around.

The Christian Science Monitor dissects the escalating battle:

Whether or not the move was made in response to Overstock’s new strategy, the fact remains that Amazon has since discounted many of its bestselling titles, such as “And the Mountains Echoed” by Khaled Hosseini and “Inferno” by Dan Brown, to extremely low prices, implementing discounts of as much as 50 to 65 percent discounts in some cases. “Mountains” is currently available on the site for $12.04 compared to its original $28.95 list price. (The one exception: J.K. Rowling’s newest title "The Cuckoo's Calling." The book is discounted, but at a less steep 42 percent, for a current price of $15.20 versus its original $26.)

Amazon's retaliation today includes a "fall books preview" that offers 20 upcoming hardcover titles at sale prices—before they've even arrived in bookstores. As The Verge notes, "prices for many new hardcovers on both websites are now identical or extremely close," constituting an online bidding war of sorts between the two booksellers.

Meanwhile, Dennis Johnson, cofounder of Brooklyn publishing house Melville House Press, has published his own takedown of the online retailer giant, blasting the company's "flagrant flaunting of antitrust laws against loss-leader pricing" and "devaluation of the book." That sort of thing rarely bothers Amazon, whose sheer size generally allows it to come out on top.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.