1 Jun 2011

Hestia ponders...the Amazon behemoth

I love a book.  I love books better than people; well, Jane Austen won't leave you loitering suspiciously outside a pub on a wet Saturday night in November....and you can slam her shut any time you feel like it.  You could even use her under a wobbly table leg if the mood takes you.  You can't do that with a real person, not without a court appearance on the following Monday morning.

I said in an earlier post, for me bookshops are places of worship.  And if a bookshop is my Cathedral, then Amazon is my book equivalent of an on-line brothel.

You want your gratification now? Cheaply? Just search for what what turns you on, peruse the contents, the reviews at your leisure, then use one-click ordering. Within a day or so, the new shiny-battered book(s) will be behind your front door.

But when I do this anonymous on-line buying of books, I feel as if I'm betraying my husband  local bookshop in the most underhand way - as if I've had a tussle with Boris Becker in a restaurant linen cupboard.  I feel my urge is gratified, but also slightly soiled and ashamed of myself.

I try very hard to support our local bookshop and although I get my instant hit from the fleshpots of Amazon, I am often to be found repenting in my local bookshop, handing over lists of desirable books along with the Amazon price in the hope that the lovely Karen can get her prices somewhere around the Amazon tag.  If she can, then I buy from her.  If she can't, then I take my dirty urge to Amazon and shop till I drop.

Last week I really wanted a particular book.  And I wanted it NOW.  It was £9.50 on Amazon.  I fought temptation and took myself off into town to see what kind of price Karen could do for me.  She pulled it upon the computer screen - £18.50.  Almost double the Amazon price!!  And, because it was a US publication, it would take a week or so for it to arrive.  A WEEK?????  DOUBLE THE PRICE????

She looked at me sadly and so I did what any errant wife loyal customer would do: I told her to order it for me, despite the price, despite the wait.  She'll sell me it for as good a price as she can - but it will still be dearer than Amazon.

But how can Amazon do this? How long can I afford to pay a tenner more for a book locally than I can get it somewhere else? How can Amazon keep its prices so low? How much longer can small independent bookshops keep their heads above water when the price differences can be so vast?

Some Tarot fans might notice that book/deck sets are often referred to simply as BOOKS on Amazon - and this is because books are zero rated, but cards are standard rated.  So I'm wondering whether the book/deck sets are described as BOOKS to avoid paying duty?  Just an idle thought?

UK Distributors of books have an RRP and zillions of overheads that need to be factored in, but what of goods that Amazon US supplies to Amazon UK?  If the US price is cheap, can Amazon UK translate that into a cheap price on the British site too? Heck, can Amazon bypass British Customs and Excise charges by some creative bit of accountancy paperwork?  I have no idea, but it's the sort of idle thought I have when trying to by a US book from a UK source other than Amazon.......

Maybe the rules need to change to bring around a more level playing field in the book world?  What do you think? Do you feel guilty about buying an Amazon bargain on-line? Do you think local bookshops need to have something else in their armoury other than being bookshops?

And my final musing question for the day:  Hardback novels: why?   Why not go straight to the less expensive format of paperback and shift some copies?  With the advance of the e-book, will there soon be no call for hardback novels at all?


  1. what book was it ? ages ago I did cancel an order with Waterstones because they couldn't get it within 6 weeks ...tho' I did end up getting it not from Amazon :-) Amazon US prices are cheaper than Amazon UK - compare the prices for Kindles ...

  2. Amazon approach the publishers and say 'we have xxxx thousand of your books but we will only pay you xx' is how they do it. So basically unless your small bookshop can buy thousands of a book they can't match Amazon.

    Works in the same way that big supermarkets can get 'better' deals for products than your little stand alone shop on the corner.

  3. Books, like everything are about quantity. The more you buy, the cheaper they are.

    I can't use Amazon for books. The process of choosing a book, of buying it and walking/getting home with it in my bag, of touching the cover and sniffing for new(or old, I often buy second hand) book smell is all part of a book's value to me. I feel like I miss something if I buy online.

    You can call me a weirdo if you want...

  4. my husband often says that we expect things to be far cheaper than they are in reality, and so we turn to amazon and wal-mart and the dollar store and other purveyors of all things cheap and temporary. sadly, this is making the economy run, but what kind of economy is it? the kind that forces the poor into sweatshops so they can mass produce goods we will have thrown out in a month.

    this has very little to do with your post, aside from maybe philosophically, but there's my morning rant.

    i tend to shop for books in second hand shops. i always feel like i'm saving a puppy from certain death at the pound when i do.

  5. aaah good old Amazon. I know how you feel.

    However, our local bookshop (there are two in the county that I know of, huddled inside a newsagents, owned by the same company) stopped me feeling guilty a while back. There I was, perusing, as you do, when the mail arrived. With no shame they opened up a bundle of boxes from The Book People, and shoved the books onto the shelf. Yes, the books I were looking at for £5 a bundle of ten were going straight onto the shleves at full price. Now I know that bookshops have to make a living, but when Im skint why should I use them as an intermediary for somewhere I can go myself? They could at least hide the fact that they're not buying from a distributors.

    This was around the time that the lovely bookshop manager disappeared..he would get you the best deal and knew his audience, the new owners of the shop didnt seem to care.

    As for hardbacks...they are much more practical for libraries..and the publishers make more money from the hardbacks. But these days I suspect most people wait for the paperback.

    ohhh shut up ara..I could go on forever :)

  6. Oh, it's dreadful the monopoly Amazon seem to have. Good on you for buying locally. It's no wonder all the local shops are closing what with the buying power of the big boys. xxx

  7. At least you have a friendly local bookstore. My local one has a kinda attitude about being superior because they are a local independent bookstore. As if I should excuse poor customer service simply because they feel awesome.

  8. I wish I had a local bookstore to buy from. There is the book store at work but I don't want to buy books in front of the students. I don't know why.

    I avoid the Amazon guilt by waiting for M to buy books on Amazon and reading them once he is finished with them. Not the best solution though, not long term.

    I used to live next door to a wonderful second had independent book store. I bought about 2 books the whole time I was there as they were the only 2 he ever had in that I liked. I still feel guilt for that. The shop is now closed.

  9. Siobhan - if there was only ever 2 books in it that you fancied, that's why it closed. So don't feel bad!

    Implausible - I cannot speak too highly of Karen, she is always on the lookout for new and interesting stationary to stock ;-)

    Vix - am loving the book you sent me - will post about it this week!

    Sage - that is really unacceptable, isn't it? Vote with your wallet...buy on-line from another little bookshop!

    Polish Chick - your man is absolutely correct. We expect things to be inexpensive, even if it means that someone in a far flung place earns about 20p for making it.

    LM - I love the whole buying experience too, but I have to accept that a lot of the books that I buy (occult, Tarot, theology, *cough* burlesque strippers) are not to be found in yer general purpose bookshop. I haz to get my books from SPECIALISTS *buttons up dirty mac*

    MfB - I went to a few local meetings about milk prices when I worked for the local paper (glamorous, eh) and was disgusted at the take it or leave it attitude of the supermarkets.

    Viv - It was Secrets of The Lenormand Oracle, cos I'd just decided to open the deck and have a bit of a play with it. Did 10 readings via FB and all feedback was good - great wee deck for a fair or something where DEATH and THE DEVIL cause palpitations ;-) You know me, I need a book for everything and thought I'd snaffle this one. It's turned out to be an expensive snaffle lol!

    Ali x

  10. I buy quite a lot of genre fiction, contemporary romance mostly (shock horror!) and it just isn't available in UK bookshops now that Borders has closed. You might get a few shelves full of crappy Regency novels in Smiths or Waterstones but it's really rare to find anything else. As for trying to find it in independent bookshops - hah! And the staff are SO snooty about it too. I'd rather not spend my money in places where people are going to look down their noses at me, thank you very much.

    So I might be sad in principle about the decline of local bookshops but practically speaking, Amazon is far better for me. Not so good for my bank account though.

  11. Its a tough one.I try to support the local shops but I do also buy from Amazon but try not to compare prices:(

  12. Books here in NZ are much more expensive than the UK, and as the clever marketers from Amazon are doing a free postage offer to NZ and Aussie, they're doing a lot of business.

    I must admit, I do like browsing in a bookshop, and really looking through the books, although my beloved seems to think that 3 hours spent browsing is (for some strange reason) time wasted.

    I ask you.

    What's a guy to do. Although I should like to add that I never, ever, look through the "naughty" sections. At least not when my beloved is within line-of-sight.

  13. Our local bookstore is a Barnes&Noble - not so big as Amazon but still a big chain - so I don't feel particularly guilty slighting them. Actually, I tend to avoid buying books and check them out of the library. I'm not reading anything particularly esoteric, so it works for me. Amazon developed a very clever delivery model that no one believed would work. No one thought people would buy books over the Internet. Or maybe everyone at the time was more worried about Barnes & Noble taking over. Now Amazon has been clever enough to develop the most popular e-reader available and even the major bookstore chains have had trouble staying afloat. I don't buy that often, but I do buy from Amazon because of price and convenience (particularly now that they offer more than just books). The independent stores here are all clustered in the city, and I'm in the suburbs, so Amazon works for me.

  14. hmmm there really is no substitute though for wandering round a bookshop, something catches you eye, you pick it up, the cover feels good, the paper quality is fabulous. You look around, no one sees, you breathe in the smell of book deeply and smile...

    oh, just me then ;)

  15. Dear Ali, "Amazon is my brothel" I shall think that every time I place an order.

    I am a huge supporter of local shops and bookshops. We have a few independent ones and a Waterstones. I was sad to see Borders go.

    I often want obscure books so Amazon is perfect. I also love that you can buy good condition hardbacks secondhand which is usually what I do. I've stopped buying for now until my huge bills are paid but I will be back as soon as I can. I love it xx

  16. I think I am the worst offender, I have a Kindle which I love, so not only am I buying from Amazon, I am undermining publishers too I think. In my defense, the need for ever increasing magnification to read means that being able to change the font size on my Kindle is a godsend, I can read even when my eyes are tired, and in the dark if need be. I do love book shops but live far away from any, and I love old hardback books too, and if we had a local bookshop I would feel as guilty as you x


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