Saturday, July 19, 2008

Where Shall I Buy Books?

The issue of parallel imports has come up again here. For those who don't know about this, currently there is a rule (law?) where a local publisher has 30 days in which to publish a book from overseas, as a local production, or booksellers are then allowed to import it. Say David Sedaris's new book comes out in the US on 1 June, then if a publisher here has bought Australian rights, they have to get it out here by 1 July. The idea is that it stops mass imports of overseas books, and supports our local publishing industry. I have to say I find the whole thing a bit confusing, and I have come to think that really it only applies to best-sellers. For a book with a limited audience of maybe 500 Australian buyers, nobody here is going to publish it. They'll just import a small amount after the 30 days.

I guess booksellers don't like the 30 days rule because anyone who wants a hot new (limited interest) title will buy it from Amazon or B&N. They won't wait. But as an occasional buyer of these books, I'm not going to bother with a local bookshop anyway, not even Dymocks or Borders. Why not? Because you go in to said bookshop, they find it for you on the computer, you put in a special order and you wait. And wait. And wait. Sometimes 3-4 months. And when the book finally arrives, you pay double for it. Why on earth wouldn't I buy online?

With Amazon or B&N, I go online, I find exactly what I want, I pay with my credit card and usually within 3 weeks or so (sometimes longer if it's hard to get, but not if it's new and available) the books turn up on my doorstep. I do pay quite a lot for postage - I think this is where Amazon makes a nice profit! - but often I am paying US$12 for a hardcover and less for a paperback. The current excellent exchange rate makes it an even better deal.

Of course I am going to buy in a local bookshop when it's available. My bookshop receipts show that they're ahead in my purchase dollars by about 5 to 1. But for things like writing books, it's a no-brainer. My local Borders and Readings both have lots of writing books for sale, often even newish ones I want. But the average price for a paperback is around $40 or more. I assume that's freight plus profit zooming the price up. So I will go and buy the same book online for $12 plus postage, which ends up being around $20-24.

Here's two concrete examples. I am very keen to read a new YA novel called Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher. It's not in any of my local bookshops so far, and may not be for another couple of months. When it is, it's likely to be in hardcover (imported) and be around $30+. On Amazon, I can buy the hardcover right now for US$11.55 plus postage (around $9 if I just buy this one book). I can also buy secondhand copies for $9.57 from Amazon, but I won't because I want to support the author. Yes, I'm going with Amazon. On the other hand, Ellen Hopkins' verse novels are always available in Borders here, and at a very reasonable price, so I will buy locally.

My other example is about secondhand. I teach several writing subjects that involve looking at aspects of the hero's journey. This year, we wanted to cover the heroine's journey and I found some information on the net for the class, but I decided I wanted a copy of the book by Maureen Murdock. No bookshops here had a copy or could get one in for me. It was originally published in 1990. But on Amazon, I was able to buy a secondhand copy for twenty-two cents!! Plus US$12 postage. It's been three weeks and it hasn't arrived yet, but I'm not in a hurry. I'm just glad to get a copy.


Anonymous said...

if you like Amazon you'll love these two sites:

Ships for free worldwide and is much faster than Amazon.

Another site which is great for second hand books and also makes donations for worldwide literacy is

Plus the shipping is under three US dollars a book. They are a bit slower than Bookdepository, ad about the same or a little quicker than Amazon.

Kristi Holl said...

You have an interesting book system "down under." I'm glad to hear about the book depository book site! I'm going to check that out.

Sherryl said...

Yes, thanks for those two sites - I hadn't heard of either of them.
As an extra to the 30 day rule, two authors in this morning's newspaper (who are both bestsellers) said that for them, it would mean that booksellers could buy in cheaper versions of their books, and their Australian-published books would die, and thus so would the publishing industry.
As I said, I do think it mostly applies to books that sell a lot of copies and have overseas versions published. But then that does tend to be a huge percentage of the books sold here!