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Grisham: Printed books are endangered species

He’s sold more than 250 million books around the world — but even John Grisham is worried about the future of the printed word in the wake of deep discounting of best-sellers by major retailers and the advent of e-book readers like Amazon’s Kindle.

Grisham’s latest book, “Ford County,” is among those being sold for $12 at Amazon.com, and it is also deeply discounted at Wal-Mart and Target as part of a price war that has erupted between the competitors

“Truthfully it doesn’t affect me — in the short term,” Grisham told Matt Lauer on TODAY.  “But it’s a disaster in the long term.”

Bleak future
“Ford County,” which is suggested to retail for $24, is one of 10 books that are being deeply discounted. Books by Stephen King, Sarah Palin and James Patterson that are supposed to sell for between $25 and $35 are among the titles now being sold by the companies for $8.98 and $9.

Paying full price for the books is essential to keep publishers, booksellers and writers in business, Grisham said.

“That enables me to make a royalty, the publisher to make a profit and the bookstore to make a profit,” he said. “If a new book is worth $9, we have seriously devalued that book.”

In response to the discounting, the American Booksellers Association wrote a letter to the Department of Justice on Oct. 22, asking that it investigate the companies’ practices, calling them “illegal predatory pricing.” But Grisham, who was a practicing attorney before becoming a writer, says that there’s not much that can be done to fight the discount pricing in court — even though he calls the practice “short-sighted.”

“It’s a free market — there’s no legal case,” he explained. “I’m not itching to sue Amazon or Wal-Mart … they sell a lot of books. But the future is very uncertain with books.”

Mark Lennihan / AP
** ADDS TO SPECIFY MODEL IS A KINDLE DX ** In this photo made Oct. 2, 2009, a student uses a Kindle DX during class at Pace University in New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

E-books eat awayAnd the price war is not the only challenge the publishing industry faces nowadays. E-books sold for the Amazon Kindle and the Sony Reader have eaten into profits of publishers and booksellers — and Grisham says the future looks bleak.

Regarding reading books electronically, he told Lauer: “If half of us are going to be doing it, then you’re going to wipe out tons of bookstores and publishers and we’re going to buy it all online.

“I’m probably going to be all right — but the aspiring writers are going to have a very hard time getting published,” he added.

Grisham’s book “Ford County,” released today, is a departure from his usual fictional legal thrillers. The book is comprised of seven short stories set in a small town in Ford County, Miss.

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