Friday, July 29, 2011

The trials of the modern bookseller

While I have great sympathy for my colleagues selling new books who have to compete against the giants of Amazon and Book Depository with its 'free shipping' (which I am certain is factored into the book price), I have never really felt threatened by either. 99% of my stock is used/second-hand and often long out of print, areas in which Book Depository doesn't deal. As a secondhand book dealer, what has most impacted upon my trade, aside from the general economic malaise, is the high Aussie dollar plus the expensive shipping rates from Australia Post which have ensured that overseas orders, once a mainstay of the business, have all but dried up.

I have however been musing on the change in culture and expectations that mega-booksellers like BD and A may create in the book-buying public. This was brought home to me this morning when I received a complaint about a book which the customer said she had expected to be new (it was printed in 2004 so little chance of that I pointed out) that it was too expensive and she could buy it online cheaper (actually not so, its very hard to find), but what really irked me was the statement: "I am not happy at being charged $12 (actually it was $US12, so I received only $11.27) for a book to be sent within Australia when I can get it sent from overseas for free." Now as I explained to said unhappy customer, aside from the fact that this book is not available from any bookseller offering free postage, it was sent in an Australia Post satchel which costs me $11.15. That means that the double wrapping (in foam and brown paper at a cost of around 50c) and time to prepare the book, the invoice, pack the book and take it down to the PO was priced in this instance at 12c. I'll let you do the math shall I? In fact the cost for shipping should have been closer to $US 14, what with the recent Auspost rises and the sudden leap in the AUD , but if said unhappy customers balks at $US12 she's going to be ropable with $US14 isn't she?

This is the thing that most worries me about the current rise of bookbuying on the internet - that the fewer bricks-and-mortar bookshops there are to buy books from (even if they are a Borders), the more readers will be forced online to do business, and the more they will expect to be able to buy dirt cheap books and have them shipped free by all booksellers, not just the McBook Depository, and frankly there is noone in Australia who can compete. I know some booksellers are trying to offer free shipping, but having done the math, I'd have to raise the prices of my books to cover it - either that or close the shop and retreat back to online only selling!


K_Bom said...

Our household has been discussing this lately. Part of me thinks that there are always going to be items which become majority sold via online vendors (be it in or outside of Australia) - new books and other mass-produced things being a big part of this. But in terms of specialist items, things that need to be tried on, tasted, viewed or are hard to find - I truly believe MOST of the buying public will make the 'effort' to visit the sellers, and possibly pay that little bit extra. It's part of the experience. Add this to fantastic customer service (which I know you offer above and beyond what one would normally expect) and you end up with something much more rewarding and enjoyable than jumping online and getting a 'free' parcel in the mail 10 days later.

Barbara said...

Thanks for your kind comments Karen, most of my customers prefer to come in and touch and feel a book, and as I've had occasion to say several times lately, a lot of them don't know they want something until they see it!