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!