The frustration of buying books online…

October 24, 2014

Am I the only heavy reader who is finding what used to be a boon – the ability to track down and buy almost any book online – increasingly a nightmare? Amazon is now a minefield with its postage charges unless you spend a tenner. Well, I’m sorry, I’m not about to search your store for some crap I don’t want to get my order up to the minimum. So, for instance, when I was out to buy the new Sherlock Holmes tale Moriarty, the £9.00 tag didn’t hook me. I waited, and did click & collect for a tenner from my local Waterstones. Anyway, the more I learn about Amazon means the more I seek to avoid them, with their tax dodging, shitty treatment of their workers and bullying of other booksellers in their effort to create a monopoly. Thank heaven for price comparison websites, especially since if you buy from the Book Depository or Abe Books you’re also buying from Amazon. Wordery is now my bookseller of choice.

The situation with secondhand books is even worse, and it’s my latest experience that has provoked this rant: a paperback plastered with green highlighter pen….  Sellers juggle with daft prices and excessive postal charges to maximise their take, especially when Amazon is taking its cut, and Amazon marketplace is the worst but other sellers are fast catching up.

First there’s the book ordered which never arrives. OK, tell them, and usually there’s an automatic refund. But – did the book exist in the first place? Inventory control isn’t wonderful out there, and anyway, if I’ve waited the two weeks for it to not arrive, then I’m seriously fed-up and have to start all over again.

Then there’s the book which isn’t as described – the most common issue, and where getting redress becomes more difficult. It seems most sellers never check the condition of what their machinery is mailing out, so pencil, biro and felt pen or highlighter abounds. Although secondhand booksellers have for many years had a detailed code for giving the condition of their books, Amazon has its own; most sellers will describe any book as ‘good’ in my experience, even when not. So, it’s a bit of a lottery out there when faced with a choice of half-a-dozen or so sellers all offering the book in good condition, all at the amazing price of £2.81!

When one does complain, often one is made to feel a cheapskate for complaining about something so cheap – a penny! – but the postage charge changes all that. Huge book barns out there handle enormous numbers of books, and their inventory control often includes barcode stickers. OK, fair enough, but on the back and the front of a book? and using non-peelable labels? Come off it!

Real secondhand bookshops are disappearing fast; their stock is often limited, sometimes mouldering and inventively priced. Charity shops have muscled in on the act, and one of the chains has an absolutely barking pricing policy. But hey, it’s a charity! I know I’m old-fashioned, but there are times when I yearn for the days of the Net Book Agreement and real shops. I’d probably spend more, overall, and more gladly. And then I think about all the amazing things that the web has allowed me to track down…

Rant over; if you got this far you may award yourself a prize…

One Response to “The frustration of buying books online…”

  1. samkbell Says:

    Have you used Hive before? I haven’t as they aren’t connected to the Ripon one, but they have shops in Knaresborough and various other local places. Not a perfect solution, but better than Amazon who I never use for the reasons you mention above!


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