Three Monkeys - Ten Minutes : Presidents Page March 2002

I paid an extended visit to Amazon.com the other day. Normally I just hit it quickly as an information site. For example if I need the name of a book or I want to see what new CDs or titles have been recently released by a musician or author. But this time I did an extensive search through the a good number of authors whose work I rate highly. I was trying to see if I could identify a few title which hadnít made their way to the local bookstores. I actually found ten titles that I wanted which were available in the cheaper formats. That is to say, smaller size trade editions and standard size mass market paperbacks.

Now I could take the opportunity to, yet again, bemoan how sad the state of the local distributor arrangements are. After all most of the ten titles are by authors I consider to be major players in the SF area. However, complaining about distributors is a lost cause. Even in the States, local bookstores have restricted choice compared to the past. So I would have hoped to be able to comment favourably about the range of choice available on Amazon. Certainly I had no trouble finding lots of interesting books. The problem came when I tried to put together the final order.

I went through the checkout process as far as the calculation of the final price. At that point, I looked at the number on the screen and thought "thatís quite a lot for ten books". However the price was in US dollars so it didnít look too horrifying. But I did the conversion anyway and worked out that the final price including freight per book was $41 in New Zealand dollars. Now that is rather a lot to pay for a bunch of mainly mass market paperbacks. As a result, I pulled the plug and cancelled the order. The freight charges had added so much that I couldnít justify the expense involved in getting those books from Amazon.

So I turned my attention back to the local booksellers. Those same bookseller who have such a restricted range of titles on their shelves. The major serious stores in town are all prepared to get hold of books for you on special order. As the range of titles on the shelves has diminished, their willingness to involve themselves in this activity has increased. I guess they see a market niche that they can exploit. To be fair to the local booksellers, they do seem keen to help their customers and show a willingness to have a good range of titles available. They are just hamstrung by distributors and, in the case of Whitcoulls, by their head office. Whatever the motivation, it does seem a good idea to encourage them to keep offering this service by making use of it.

The good folks organising Con With The Wind have had an interesting idea in this regard. Get people to put together lists of titles and authors and CWTW will put these together for the vendors who will be at the convention. There are a couple of benefits to this. First it may get the book to you. Second, it will help inform the local booksellers as to our tastes so they can continue sourcing similar work. It may not help the head office buyers for Whitcoulls, but Barbara's Books and Dymocks are owner operated and will certainly be interested.

Working for a credit card company, the subject of loyalty schemes is never very far away from my thoughts. So since I am looking at the services of the local bookstores, I think I should also include a reference to their loyalty schemes. Whitcoulls and Unity both go down the buy ten get one free loyalty card route. This is fine if you buy your books from the one store, but because I spread my purchasing around, it takes quite a while to trigger a free book by this method. Dymocks on the other hand use a more sophisticated point and instant reward based system. You accumulate points proportional to the amount you spent on anything in the store. When you reach certain thresholds you get discount vouchers. They also have the possibility of instant rewards every time you make a purchase. So far, for enough purchases to fill out about one and a half Whitcoulls cards, I have got three discount vouchers, two free instant prize books and a free video hire. I'm not convinced that the overall benefit is any greater, but it does make the shopping experience more interesting.

I don't know if its real or not, but I get the impression that competition in the local bookstore market is a bit hotter that it was. The reason I suspect this is in part because of the amount of promotional activity about, including sales, specials and the loyalty schemes. The suspicion is also fuelled by what seems to be a slight drop in base prices. There has not really been much exchange rate movement in favour of the NZ dollar, yet the price movement which was pushing prices not too long ago seems to have turned around and pulled back a bit. At least I hope itís a real trend and not just a figment of my imagination. If prices have come down then I may save a bit of money. And what will I do with the money I have saved? Well, buy more books of course. Possibly at Con With The Wind, from among the interesting and hard to find titles that the vendors there will be supplying.

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