17 January 2000
On Buying Books
I thought of posting my overview of the year's SFFH films as an editorial, then decided to put that under a new 'Reviews' heading and write about something different here, instead.
This concerns something published as news in the January issue of Locus; but I'll editorialize about it since I have a vested interest.
The news is that both the Borders and Barnes & Noble chains have recently changed their discount policies. Until a couple months ago, both chains routinely discounted all new hardcovers 10%, with bestsellers or staff selections discounted 30%. Now, those discounts have disappeared. Bestsellers and staff selections are still discounted -- sometimes 50%! -- but all other hardcovers aren't discounted at all.
Borders president Richard Flanagan claims the changes were made based on test marketing and customer surveys, indicating a preference for ''better discounts on the items they were most interested in, rather than a 10% across-the-board discount on hardcovers.''
Which is fine, if you mostly buy bestsellers. For me, it's a disaster, and I suspect many of you -- who probably buy many books not on the bestseller lists -- might agree. Last month I walked out of a Borders and realized I had just paid full price for two hardcovers! Gasp! (Don't I get review copies, you ask? No, I don't; I'm independent and 400 miles away from the Locus magazine offices, and I review only short fiction in magazines for Locus, not books; so the books I acquire for my personal collection, I buy.)
But in concert with these changes are less advertised changes. Suddenly it's routine to find most hardcovers discounted 30%, not just 10%, on Amazon.com, and Barnesandnoble.com, and Borders.com. It's as if their strategy is to drive customers out of the stores and onto the web. (If I were manager of a Barnes & Noble store, I'd be sore.)
It's now far more economical to buy books off the web than in the stores. Until now, I've only ordered books from (usually) Amazon.com when they weren't readily available in the stores. I like hefting a book before I buy it. (And choosing a copy that's not chipped, or skewed, etc.) But if I can save 30% off the cover price, and pay less for shipping than I was charged sales tax, well, I'll make sacrifices. True, you lose the immediate gratification of having the book right away. But this past week, I ordered two books (by Gene Wolfe and Kage Baker) from Amazon.com Wednesday evening. They arrived in Friday's mail. The shipping was about $5, for a total of about $40; whereas at full price, with California sales tax, I would have paid $54. I can live with waiting two days.
As it happens, I've been working recently on setting up some 'cumulative listing' pages to gather, in one place, a list, with links (to Amazon.com), of all the notable books published in the past year, sorted by form: novels, collections, anthologies, etc. These pages are similar to compilations done in previous years of the 'new and notable' listings from Locus magazine, but the new 'cumulative listing' pages, when complete, will include all books reviewed in the magazine and mentioned almost anywhere on the website -- in the Monitor listings, on the bestseller lists, in the 'Field Inspections' pages. These pages aren't complete yet, but for the moment I've put up provisional pages including mostly just those books I've already listed here online. (I'll need another weekend of linking databases together to finish what I have in mind.)
One of the motivations for compiling these 'cumulative listing' pages was a chat with a friend back in October. I suggested that, instead of buying a book in the store, he use the link I had online to order the book from Amazon.com. He'd get the same or better discount, and I'd get a small cut of the book's price in my role as an Amazon associate. He said, OK, where is the link? I said, um, it should be on this page.. no, try this page.. well, maybe this one, oh, here it is.
Another motivation is that I like compiling lists, and thought it would be neat to compile lists of the year's novels, collections, etc., that would be more comprehensive (thought admittedly, not inclusive of every book published) than the annual Recommended Reading Lists that are published in the February issues of Locus magazine. If you find those lists too constricting for use in Hugo or Locus Poll voting, here are much longer lists. At the same time, the links are handy for actually buying books...
The point is that not only can you save lots more money by buying books online than you could until recently, but doing so helps support this website -- the associate's income from Amazon.com is the only income this website generates. (Don't ask me about banner ads. Been there, tried that, fallen through twice.) And these new 'cumulative listing' pages will make it far easier to find links for buying current books than before. (I get a small amount from books you buy indirectly from Amazon, when you search for a title there after linking to Amazon from this site, but considerably more from books directly linked from this site.)
So: the 'cumulative listing' pages when complete will be an index to all references to current books in the magazine and on the website, but they'll also constitute a handy list of Amazon.com links you can use to buy current books. They'll save you money, and they'll help support Locus Online. Every little bit helps; at this rate, in another 20 or 30 years I can retire from my day job and do this full-time!
P.S. I'm not unsympathetic to the interests of the specialty bookstores, who have enough trouble competing against the chain bookstores, without competition from the Web. By all means support those in your neighborhood! But if you do all your shopping at Waldenbooks...
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