Watch Out iTunes and Amazon, Here Come HMV and Wal-Mart?

HMV Digital I recently read an article in the Globe and Mail discussing the hot battle for online book sales. For the last decade, Amazon has enjoyed a cushy spot on top of their competition—wait, did they even have any real competition? If I had a penny for every time I proclaimed my love for Amazon, I'd probably have enough to order at least one more book.  Over the last few years, Amazon has moved beyond paperbacks into other retail markets, including a broad offering of consumer goods. (I ordered a hair straightener from their site just last month.) Their offering is a no-brainer: a trusted site + quick delivery + great deals on goods =  happy consumers. Other online and retail giants, namely Wal-Mart and Google, have been eyeing Amazon's success for some time. In the Globe article, Forrester analyst, Sarah Rotman Epps, notes:

“Amazon and Wal-Mart have been competing for that consumer for a long time. The reason why this is important now is that whoever has a strong relationship with the book-buying consumer today is well-positioned to keep that customer tomorrow."

The battleground is heating up. Amazon and Wal-Mart are now in a fully fledged price war, selling many popular books and e-books for under 10 dollars. While they may not be turning an actual profit on book sales, they are able to promote other items and sections of their site leading to increased sales overall.

In similar news, HMV, a store that up until a few years ago I visited weekly, has finally decided to enter this century and offer their content online—gasp! Since most people have already become accustomed to using iTunes or just downloading everything for free, is this move too little too late? The new site (HMV Digital) offers all MP3s free of digital rights management (DRM) and includes a "My Downloads" section which stores recently downloaded songs and allows users to access them remotely. The site also aims to make customer service a top priority with a visible help section, a comments section on their blog, and by providing contact details of the editor. Time will tell, but I feel that even with these features HMV will have to make some serious marketing and advertising efforts to gain back their market share.

No matter who comes out on top, a little healthy competition is good for the soul, and great for the consumer. Let the games begin!