Editorial: Much Ado

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Published: December 8, 2014 12:42:51 AM

The brick-and-mortar booksellers’ noise over Amazon’s exclusive deal with Rupa is unwarranted

Amazon’s exclusive launch and first-three-week sales deal with publisher Rupa for President Pranab Mukherjee’s book The Dramatic Decade: The Indira Gandhi Years is not a new ploy to leapfrog past competition. Indian e-tail giant Flipkart has done it before, with the exclusive Moto and Xiaomi smartphone sales. But this time round, brick-and-mortar booksellers are up in arms against Amazon’s deal, saying it is “an abuse of competition”. This echoes organised retail lashing out at e-tail players just weeks earlier. Is this the new normal, of online-offline retail clashes? Yes, and no.

Yes, because such “exclusive-stock” deals are going to be the norm—and together with the heavy discounts e-tail players are able to afford, they will cause organised and traditional retail to bleed urban middle- and upper-class shoppers, at least for items like books and phones. But it is also true that e-tail is still, and will remain for the next 5 or so years, a marginal player in the Indian retail ecosystem, with unorganised and organised retail being the dominant ones. So, while the exclusive launch deal will nibble at brick-and-mortar sales, the
real target of such strategies for an Amazon are competing e-tail players. A Flipkart’s business stands to be hurt more than, say, a Crossword’s.

That said, such deals themselves don’t constitute to anti-competitive practices. Remember organised retail offering edgier prices on daily consumables, sourced in bulk from producers? That had set off traditional kirana retail, which believed that such pricing was predatory. But kiranas are still thriving, aren’t they?

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