June 3, 2014, 4:00 PM

Walmart.com boosts its book sales as Amazon spars with a publisher

The retail chain reports increased book sales from an e-mail promotion tied to the ongoing book price dispute between Amazon and Hachette.

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As Amazon.com Inc. fights over prices with publisher Hachette Book Group, one of the e-retailer’s main rivals says it has benefited from the dispute.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. sent an e-mail blast to customers last week promoting not only the online availability of Hachette titles from the retail chain, but its offer of 40% off the cover price of those books. Amazon has stopped pre-orders of some Hachette titles and delayed shipments of others, and the two companies are duking it out over pricing terms for books, including those distributed electronically. The dispute reportedly impacts 5,000 books. Amazon last week said it expected no quick resolution to the matter, whose roots stretch back four years.

Since that e-mail blast, sales of books via Walmart.com have increased 70%, says a spokeswoman for the retail chain, which is No. 4 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide. She offered no further details about the promotion or what Wal-Mart might do to further exploit the Amazon-Hachette dispute. “We’re committed to making it easy for our customers to have access to a broad assortment of the products they want, at the low prices they want—including copies of their favorite books that they might not be able to get elsewhere,” she says.

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The jab at Amazon comes a couple of weeks after Wal-Mart said  its global e-commerce sales had increased about 27.0% in the company’s fiscal first quarter, which ended April 30. That tops Amazon’s first quarter growth of 18.3% for goods Amazon sold itself on its 13 global e-commerce sites. Wal-Mart also grew faster online than Amazon in 2013, the first time in five years the big retail chain’s web sales outpaced Amazon’s growth. Wal-Mart also recently said it plans to double its global e-commerce staff this year.

Amazon, No. 1 in the Top 500 Guide, offered no immediate comment today about Wal-Mart’s online book promotion. The chain is hardly the only Amazon rival that has tried to take fiercer aim at Amazon’s historic core. Nearly a year ago, Overstock.com Inc., No. 31 in the Top 500, dropped the prices of books on its e-commerce site so that they are 10% lower than Amazon.com’s prices. In 2010, Amazon.com Inc. signed an electronic book pricing agreement with Hachette Book Group that allowed the publisher to set the price for e-books instead of Amazon, which has been pricing e-books low as a way to promote sales of its Kindle reader. In 2012, the U.S. Justice Department also announced settlements with three of the publishers named in an antitrust suit:  Hachette Book Group Inc., HarperCollins Publishers LLC and Simon & Schuster Inc. The settlement requires the publishers to let retailers reduce the prices of those publishers’ e-book titles. Amazon.com Inc. applauded the settlement. “This is a big win for Kindle owners, and we look forward to being allowed to lower prices on more Kindle books,” a spokesman says.

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