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Amazon, Wal-Mart battling over book pricing

Wal-Mart starts pricing war with Amazon over hardcover book sales. Wal-Mart won't say it has anything to do with the Kindle, but that might not be totally accurate.

Wal-Mart Stores has waged an online book pricing war against, The Wall Street Journal reported Friday morning.

Wal-Mart sent the first salvo over Amazon's bow on Thursday when the retail giant announced that it would sell ten highly anticipated books for $10 on Wal-Mart said Stephen King's upcoming hardcover "Under the Dome" and Sarah Palin's "Going Rogue" will be included in that grouping. Wal-Mart's prices include free shipping.

Not to be outdone, Amazon reduced prices to match Wal-Mart's pricing on all 10 titles. That was quickly followed by Wal-Mart's decision to reduce the prices on those books again to $9 late Thursday night. In response, Amazon reduced the prices of all ten titles to $9, as well. The company also reduced the books' Kindle pricing to $9. That's where the prices stand on both sites as of this writing.

Sarah Palin's book is going for $9 on Wal-Mart. Screenshot by Don Reisinger/CNET

"If there is going to be a 'Wal-Mart of the Web,' it is going to be," CEO Raul Vazquez told The Wall Street Journal in an interview. "Our goal is to be the biggest and most visited retail Web site."

As viable a goal as that may be for Wal-Mart, it could also cost the online-retail industry dearly. According to the Journal, Wal-Mart is already offering up to 200 best sellers for "50 percent of their list price." That's a figure that most retailers can't keep up with. And as the publication pointed out, it's a price point that could put smaller, less powerful organizations out of business.

"Retailers traditionally pay half the list price for a hardcover book," the Journal wrote in its report. "Assuming that's the case with Wal-Mart, its $10 sale price on 'Under the Dome' represents a 71 percent discount of the $35 cover price, which suggests the discounter will lose $7 to $7.50 on every copy it sells." Wal-Mart might be able to afford that, but other, smaller retailers might not.

But $10 might not be a figure that Wal-Mart picked out of the air. Quite the contrary, the retail giant might have chosen $10 because it's the same price Amazon is currently offering e-books for in its Kindle store. Wal-Mart is, so far, on the outside looking in at the e-book market and the sale of highly anticipated hardcovers for $10 might reflect that.

That said, the company told the Journal that its decision to drop the price of those major titles had nothing to do with the Kindle. Even so, Wal-Mart is a major retailer with loads of cash that it can easily put towards infiltrating a discount book market--electronic or otherwise. A loss on select titles might be worth it in the long run. It could stymie some of the Kindle's impressive growth. That might have been Wal-Mart's intention all along.

What do you think of this? Is Wal-Mart the hero for offering hardcover books at such discounted rates? Is Amazon wrong for matching its pricing? Let us hear your thoughts in the comments below.