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kindlestore Who says Amazon’s Kindle Store is the only e-tailer offering new best-sellers at $10 or close to it?

On this Black Friday sales day, I resisted the urge to head to Best Buy for discounted e-gizmos, and instead I compared the prices of best-sellers from discount-oriented stores on the Web. So what patterns did I pick up?

First, the E prices of new hits are at last competitive against the hardback format that most big publishers favor for their stars’ first runs. And I don’t just mean Amazon’s e-prices. Many consumers, of course, would probably like to see the prices still lower, much lower, given the hassles of DRM. But just the same, the trend is downward, sharply. For comparison’s sake, I won’t even bother to list hardback prices later in this post—typically $20-$25 and up at brick-and-mortar stores. Even Amazon hardbacks can approach that level with shipping included. We’re really talking new books, but some of the e-discounts also stack up well against certain used best-sellers if you include UPS charges and the rest. E-bookers, rejoice! Significantly, a new survey of 5,000 Web surfers shows that low prices, not Kindle-style devices, are the key to growing E.

Second, the Kindle Store is beating Sony in best-seller prices, but the latter is still surprisingly competitive.

Third, some independent e-tailers are at least putting up a good fight.

Pattern One: Best-seller prices finally competitive against P

Yes, E is dramatically undercutting hardcover in the best-seller department at least. We can all can dream wild fantasies, such as publishers now caring a little more about midlist and backlists books. Fergit, though. The book world is too star-crazed, damn it, at least the tradies; and besides, many nonbestsellers already are on sale at low E prices, especially those published by small presses.

Meanwhile, for consumers, the shrunken prices of digitized best-sellers are great news. One e-store, BooksOnBoard.com, has even put out a news release pledging to try to compete against the prices of Kindle best-sellers, while offering 154,000 titles rather than 90,000.

Please note that I haven’t vetted BoB’s title count, and I also notice that some best-sellers, such as Clive Cussler’s The Chase, are apparently AWOL. And BoB’s online catalogue lists Allan Greenspan’s The Age of Turbulance at $19.99, twice Amazon’s e-price as of early Friday afternoon. Still, BoB’s best-seller prices generally appear to be in the Kindle range, as promised, and the news release is one more shot in the discount wars.Many publishers and old-fashioned bookstores, of course, will not be happy about E’s new pricing strength against P, at least within the best-seller category. But they can find hope in the fact that the discount e-stores in most cases could be using the best-sellers right now as price leaders.

Pattern Two: Amazon’s Kindle store is beating Sony, but not always by much

As for the second pattern, I notice that Sony isn’t quite matching Amazon’s $10 prices on New York Times bestsellers but often is coming close.

Vince Flynn’s Protect and Defend, for example, goes for the usual $9.99 at the Kindle store and just 20 cents more at Sony Connect.

Pattern Three: Spunky Fictionwise and some other independents can at least put up a good fight

The third pattern? Well, even in the price wars (favoring the big boys), I found that competitive e-independents can at least put up a good fight if they’re willing to shrink margins and keep it up. And I don’t just mean BooksOnBoard. For example, Fictionwise, which draws many heavy readers of E, is very very close to the Kindle store right now in best-seller prices if you factor in discounts and rebates.

Fictionwise’s Micropay dollars are discounted more than usual at the moment, but even without Micropay, this cyber-indie looks surprisingly competitive, with some nice savings resulting from the $30 spent on a yearly Buywise Club membership.

Yes, many of my TeleBlog and PW readers don’t just write, publish or sell books but also buy them. And at least if their tastes run toward best-sellers—hey, such discerning folks buy the other varieties of books, too, right?–they may want to hold off on purchasing a $400 Kindle if they’re thrifty and open to dealing with other e-bookstores.

Kindle’s catches for bargain-minded book-shoppers—and a potential downside for publishers, too

For novices, yes, I can make a powerful argument for the Kindle, and I’m glad it’s around to fire them up about e-books. Based on what I know from afar—Amazon hung up on me when I requested a review unit—I’d recommend the Kindle for technophobic English majors with immediate needs. If tech-hip shoppers and book industry people think in the long term, however, they may see arguments against snapping up those $10 Kindle books and building whole libraries of them. In many ways the Kindle format could be a lot more expensive in the long run than it would appear at first.

You see, Kindle books are usable only on Machine K and not on your Windows desktop or laptop PC or on your cell phone or PDA. Most independent stores sell e-books that a number of machines can display. Sony books don’t work on PDAs but will work on machines that run Windows software. Nothing like the joys of the Tower of eBabel—all those clashing formats, to which Amazon CEO Jeff Bezo arrogantly added Kindle’s AZW! I’m still baffled why Newsweek’s Steve Levy didn’t really give a squat despite all the questions raised about the risks to Amazon’s older Mobipocket format. Amid media apathy, will Bezos let Mobi die in time to stymie his independent competitors using it, then jack up book prices? Has Jeff read The Octopus lately? As an instruction manual, perhaps? Just what’s the difference between books and grain? Where’s Frank Norris when we need him? Will many e-book publishers end up like Norris’s California farmers—forced to rely on just a few companies to ship their goods to market?

The specter of an Amazon- or Google-based e-book business, in time, or maybe yet another Microsoft monopoly, is a good argument for the IDPF‘s .epub standard for consumers, not merely as an exchange format. Let there be standards, just not centered around one company’s band of ego—however much some people may be dazzled by $10 prices. Beyond the other risks to shoppers and publishers alike, the different formats can carry different prices at the wholesale and sometimes even the retail level. Imagine the bookkeeping horrors among some e-tailers. What’s more, even Amazon and Google and Microsoft could benefit, with consumers less confused about e-books.

Book-by-book lowdown

Well, so much for the long term. Book by book, here’s the lowdown on top items on the New York Times bestseller list as of Friday afternoon. Please note that I’m using the NYT list, not some alternatives that I’d prefer, simply because Amazon is focusing its discounts around the Times’ list. All Fictionwise prices are with BuyWise and Micropay rebates/discounts, and remember, BuyWise isn’t free. Still, it’s clear that Fictionwise isn’t planning to roll over dead in the face of competition from the Kindle.

HARDCOVER FICTION

1. STONE COLD, by David Baldacci
Amazon Kindle: $9.99
Sony Reader’s Connect store: $11.39
Fictionwise (Adobe Reader 7, eReader, Microsoft Reader, Mobipocket): $9.85
BookOnBoard.com (same formats as Fictionwise): $15.19-$15.76

2. CREATION IN DEATH, by J. D. Robb
Amazon Kindle: $9.99
Sony Reader store: $12.99
Fictionwise (eReader, Microsoft Reader, Mobipocket): $9.71
BooksOnBoard (Adobe, eReader, Microsoft, Mobipocket): $9.99

3. THE CHASE, by Clive Cussler
Amazon Kindle: $9.99
Sony Reader store: $12.99
Fictionwise with discounts: $9.62
BooksOnboard: Not listed as of Friday

4. PROTECT AND DEFEND, by Vince Flynn
Amazon Kindle: $9.99
Sony Reader store: $10.19
Fictionwise (eReader, Microsoft, Mobipocket): $9.62
BooksOnBoard (Adobe, eReader, Microsoft, Mobipocket): $9.99

5. RHETT BUTLER’S PEOPLE, by Donald McCaig
Amazon Kindle: $9.99
Sony Reader store: $12.99
Fictionwise: Not listed as of Friday
BooksOnBoard: Not listed

HARDCOVER NONFICTION

1. I AM AMERICA (AND SO CAN YOU!), by Stephen Colbert, Richard Dahm, Paul Dinello, Allison Silverman et al.
Amazon Kindle: $9.99
Sony Reader store: $10.79
Fictionwise (Adobe Reader 7, eReader, Microsoft, Mobipocket): $9.85
BooksOnBoard (same formats as Fictionwise): $9.99

2. BOOM!, by Tom Brokaw
Amazon Kindle: $9.99
Sony Reader store: $10.77
Fictionwise (eReader, Microsoft, Mobipocket): $9.77
BooksOnBoard (Adobe, eReader, Microsoft): $9.99

3. RESCUING SPRITE, by Mark R. Levin
Amazon Kindle: $9.99
Sony Reader store: $10.19
Fictionwise (eReader, Microsoft, Mobipocket): $9.82
BooksOnBoard (Adobe Reader 7, eReader, Microsoft, Mobipocket): $9.99

4. CLAPTON, by Eric Clapton
Amazon Kindle: $9.99
Sony Reader store: $10.77
Fictionwise (eReader, Microsoft, Mobipocket): $9.77
BooksOnBoard (Adobe Reader 7, eReader, Microsoft, Mobipocket): $9.99

5. THE AGE OF TURBULENCE, by Alan Greenspan
Amazon Kindle: $9.99
Sony Reader store: $12.99
Fictionwise (eReader, Microsoft, Mobipocket): $9.52
BooksOnBoard (Adobe 7, eReader, Microsoft, Mobipocket): $19.99 (not a typo)

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