Wal-Mart Touts Web Book Sales Amid Amazon-Hachette Spat

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. says it’s benefiting from the spat between Inc. and publisher Hachette Book Group.

The world’s largest retailer, which offers Hachette titles for sale on its Web store, said yesterday that physical book sales on have climbed 70 percent. The company didn’t give a time frame for the gain.

Wal-Mart is promoting its online operations following a dispute between Amazon and Hachette this month over digital-book prices. In the fallout, Amazon blocked pre-orders for some of the publisher’s forthcoming releases. Among the books caught in the wrangle is “The Silkworm,” the new novel by J.K. Rowling, writing under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith.

“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,” Wal-Mart, based in Bentonville, Arkansas, said in a statement.

Sarah Gelman, a spokeswoman for Amazon, referred back to the Seattle-based company’s statement from earlier this week that only a small percentage of the Web retailer’s merchandise is affected by the dispute.

In the May 28 statement, Amazon said it’s “not optimistic” the talks with Hachette will be resolved soon and said it was acting “on behalf of customers.”

Arnaud Nourry, chief executive officer of the publishing unit of Lagardere SCA, which owns Hachette, has said he’s still hoping for an agreement within “a few weeks.”

Fierce Rivals

Wal-Mart and Amazon have become fierce rivals, with Amazon disrupting traditional retail and Wal-Mart trying to catch up in its e-commerce prowess. When Wal-Mart announced Doug McMillon would be its new CEO last November, one former director of the retailer said the executive recognized the need for the business to grow online and that “the global e-commerce opportunity sits at the heart of his skill set.”

Amazon dominates e-book sales with 60 percent of the market, according to Forrester Research. The company also helped pioneer the e-book market with the introduction of the Kindle e-reading device in 2007. While physical book sales in the U.S. are projected to fall to $19.5 billion this year from $26 billion in 2010, e-book sales are anticipated to jump more than eightfold to $8.7 billion, according to Forrester.

Hachette, a New York-based arm of Lagardere’s publishing unit Hachette Livre, includes Grand Central Publishing, Hyperion Books and Little, Brown & Co.

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