Sure we all sometimes feel like Reid Fleming, World’s Toughest Milkman, seen below at right, that we’ve got it all. Then again, given a wider field of vision, perhaps not. Let’s take the current book price war between Amazon, Wal-Mart, and now Target. You can read some current book industry articles on the price war here and here, but in essence things have gone like this.
Wal-Mart: I’m the toughest gorilla in the room. I can hold my breath longer (i.e. sell product below cost longer) than anyone else in the room. I’ll sell the top ten most pre-ordered titles for $9.00 each.
Amazon: I’m as tough as you are, and I can hold my breath for just as long. $9.00
So what’s wrong with this picture? Sure selling a whole “basket” of books well below wholesale is almost certainly a violation of anti-trust laws, but is there anything else wrong with three multi-billion dollar corporations losing a few hundred million each while they try and harm each other and kill off all other book selling forms of life?
Was there anything wrong with deregulating the economy so that Enron could spread its wings, and so that Wall Street banking institutions could finally make the world a better place for everyone? Do we really need community-minded, locally owned businesses that employ local people, support local institutions, care about local schools and pay sales tax? What’s really at stake here with this kind of economic blood sport? Is it really just finding out who the single most powerful corporation is? Antitrust laws don’t mean anything without the public will to enforce them.
Rockefeller’s monopolistic Standard Oil practices weren’t stopped because of The Sherman Antitrust Act, The Sherman Antitrust Act was passed and enforced because the public wanted Standard Oil’s monopolistic practices stopped. Do we need more evidence than Enron and the federal bailout of Wall Street to realize that we can’t afford for the government to be yet another bystander while soulless billionaire corporations turn the book market place into a bloody cage match in which the concept of a level playing field is so fictional than no publisher would find it credible enough to publish?