It may not seem like a great time to be talking about good news in the book world. After all, news headlines report that 2,500 Australian jobs may go as the owner of Borders and Angus & Robertson has gone into voluntary receivership. But there is nonetheless some good news for book lovers, so keep reading.
As to the recent headlines, this situation does seem to be rather unfortunate. Several factors appear to be behind this financial collapse: cheaper books from overseas online booksellers, and Australian protectionist policies which mean books here are more expensive than what they need to be.
Such protectionism is said to be necessary to protect Australian authors and Australian booksellers. But I am unconvinced for two reasons: one, I find such protectionist policies to be problematic in themselves, and two, I speak selfishly, as a consumer: I prefer to buy my books more cheaply than more expensively.
Why should I be forced to buy books here much more expensively than they need to be? If I can get books much cheaper overseas, why shouldn’t I? And must governments always prop up every industry, especially if they seem to be uncompetitive, or unable or unwilling to compete with others?
Sure, allowing open competition may well cost some local jobs. That always happens when cheaper, newer or more efficient alternatives come along. When cars came on the scene, regrettably horse and carriage workers lost out. The slide rule industry went bust with the advent of the calculator. Plenty of other such examples come to mind.
This is sometimes part of the way life works. In order for consumers to get less expensive goods and services, the forces of competition will see some business and/or individuals thrive while others may struggle, if not go under altogether.
Now I realise that this is a risky article to write. Many topics I broach here result in hate mail and enmity. An article on books should not prove so divisive, but there will be some at least who will not like some of the tips and insights I share here.
Certainly local booksellers will not be too thrilled about all this. But again, in a market economy, the consumer should be king. Local book businesses may just have to adjust, and realise that government protection and coddling cannot always be counted on, and is not always a good thing anyway.
OK, that is a bit of the politics, economics and the big picture about this issue. Now let me get practical, and share some tips which all book lovers will love, but again some local book businesses may not appreciate. Those, like me, who love books and can’t get enough of them, but are on a strict budget, will enjoy what I have to share here.
All budget-conscious shoppers, whether of books or anything else, are of course used to shopping around, comparing prices. With the rise of the Internet and online suppliers of goods, this opens things up radically. And with the Australian dollar currently so high, buying from overseas online shops really does become attractive.
And when you discover that some overseas sellers offer free international shipping, then the options really do open up big time. This is true of book sellers. There are now many excellent online booksellers. Amazon was one of the first, and is still excellent in many respects.
But there are now other players vying for the book lovers’ dollars. So with all this competition, the book fan has lots of great choices available. But who has time to look up a half dozen sites to compare prices and service? A new Australian book service now does all the work for you.
Ever since I have been informed about this, I have used it quite frequently. And it shows, with my wife worried about my burgeoning book budget. But this is a wonderful site, and I must let all true book lovers onto this, aware again that some may not like these secrets revealed! I refer to <booko.com.au>
Now I am not associated with this site, and get no advantage in any way in promoting it. But as a hardcore book addict, I just love this site, and want to let other bibliophiles know about it. What it does is quite simple. Type in any book title you are interested in, and within seconds a list of up to 50 different booksellers appears, with the cheapest price available (including shipping) listed on top.
It will list dozens of bookstores, both Australian and international, showing what the book costs, the shipping costs, and the total costs, all in Australian dollars. So in seconds you know which one is the very best buy. Let me give you just one example of this.
A book I am just now writing a review of – and recently obtained via this process – is Confessions of a Greenpeace Dropout by Patrick Moore. A click of the mouse informs me that the cheapest place I can get it through is the Book Depository in the UK. It sells for $32.10 (AUD) and has free international shipping.
A bit down the list I am told that amazon UK has it cheaper, at $30.38, but when you add their shipping costs ($14.04) it comes to a total of $44.42. But going down the list further is the real revelation. Consider the two bookstores which may go bust here.
Their prices tell us in part why they may be going bust! Who would want to buy this book at their prices, when it can be gotten so much cheaper overseas? Borders is selling it for $75.95! Angus & Robertson has it for $96.95! And if you want them to ship it to you, add another $6 on to the total.
What book lover in their right mind would get a copy of this book at these stores, if they can get it for a third of the price overseas? And I find that most overseas orders arrive within 2 to 3 weeks. But some may say they want to look over the book first before buying.
Fair enough, but most online book sellers, especially amazon, tell you heaps about the book, including page previews, table of contents, and other bits of info. Plus some of these sites feature book reviews where you can also learn a lot about the volume.
But if you know what book you want, and don’t need to page through it first, something like booko is heaven sent. While I have bought more books lately because of it, I keep telling my wife about how much money I am saving in the process. (For some reason she still remains sceptical.)
So unless you are a diehard supporter of protectionism and the local industry, you should check out these overseas sites. And check out booko with its easy to use comparison of prices. Sometimes of course a local Australian store will be comparable in price, maybe even cheaper.
But a service like this really does allow you to shop around very quickly and efficiently, finding the very best price for the book you are looking for. So enjoy these services, before governments start putting taxes on online goods and services.
Book lovers of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your bank balance!