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Walmart cashes in on Amazon-Hachette fight

When Amazon made it harder to order Hachette titles, Walmart, Barnes & Noble, and Target slashed prices on affected books.

Readers anxious to dig into the new J.K Rowling or James Patterson novel may have to wait a bit. Or, they could go to Walmart.

This week, the world’s largest retailer found a way to stick it to Amazon, one of its chief competitors. The e-commerce giant is currently embroiled in a dispute with Hachette, a major publisher that carries the two authors mentioned above, as well as David Sedaris, Nicholas Sparks, Malcolm Gladwell, and many more.

The exact reasons for the impasse aren’t clear, though The New York Times reports that is has to do with e-book pricing. As a result, Amazon has made a point of making it difficult to purchase nearly 5,000 titles from the site by buying less stock of print books, delaying shipping times up to four weeks, and taking away “pre-order” options from books from Hachette. 

“If you order 1,000 items from Amazon, 989 will be unaffected by this interruption,” reads a press statement released by Amazon last week. “If you do need one of the affected titles quickly, we regret the inconvenience and encourage you to purchase a new or used version from one of our third-party sellers or from one of our competitors.”

Walmart, not widely known as a bastion of the literary world, pounced on the opportunity, slashing prices on Hachette titles and announcing the sale with a banner on the homepage of its website, offering both pre-orders and free in-store pickup of Hachette books. It worked: As of Friday, Walmart sales of print books (not including e-books), were up 70 percent since Tuesday, according to the company.

“Earlier last week, Walmart reached out to customers to alert them about the online, in-stock availability of their favorite books from Hachette Publishing Group,” a Walmart spokesperson wrote via e-mail. “All books are available online at the everyday low price, which is 40 percent off the cover price.”

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It’s obvious why Walmart would tout an e-commerce win over Amazon: The two companies are bitter foes, with Walmart working hard in recent years to chip away at Amazon’s domination of the online shopping world. Walmart’s e-commerce sales increased 27 percent in the first quarter of 2013, according to its most recent earnings report, but they still make up a mere 0.3 percent of its total sales in the US. Amazon, meanwhile, is still a long way off from beating Walmart outright; the latter is the single-largest company in the world, and the former is only the 65th -largest.

Still, it’s mostly a symbolic win for Walmart in the grand scheme of things. Books make up a small fraction of the retailer’s business, and Amazon remains unrivaled in the bookselling space. But that hasn’t stopped other retailers from taking a page from Walmart’s book: Barnes & Noble and Target are also discounting Hachette titles, with Target’s website offering both pre-orders and a “temporary price cut” for “The Silkworm,” J.K Rowling’s highly anticipated new novel penned under the name Robert Galbraith.

No telling whether the discounts will last as long as the dispute, which could be a long haul. “The two companies have so far failed to find a solution,” Amazon’s press statement reads.  “Even more unfortunate, though we remain hopeful and are working hard to come to a resolution as soon as possible, we are not optimistic that this will be resolved soon.”