Online retailer Amazon has come under fire this week for dodgy employment practices following an expose in the weekend’s New York Times. In the wake of the kerfuffle, there have been a few articles floating around on the alternatives to buying books from Amazon.
All the articles I’ve seen have been focused on US and UK options. I know we live in an international marketplace now (cough! cough!) but with the Australian dollar dropping and long shipping times, overseas sources aren’t always the most convenient or timely option for those of us buying books in Australia.
So, for my bookloving friends in Australia, here’s my Top Five pick of where you can buy books if you don’t want to line Amazon’s pockets:
1. Your Local Bookshop
There’s nothing quite like being in a room surrounded by books – their covers offering you a door to another world, another life; a place where you are offered a smorgasbord of ideas and inspiration, worlds and wonder. You get to pick up the books, flick through, read the first pages (and the last, if that’s your thing), look at the pictures, feel the texture of the rough-cut pages, smell the ink. It’s a visceral and cerebral experience – and one that is yet to be replicated online. There are still a few “bricks n mortar” bookshops in major metropolitan areas. Those that remain are owned and staffed by very passionate and knowledgeable readers. Besides the finely-curated collection of books that you can peruse at your leisure, your local bookshop can order any book in print. Most books only take a week to get in – even the ones that have to be directly imported from overseas can arrive faster than you can say “Where’s my boooo … ?” And, wait, here’s the cool bit, if you can’t get to your local bookshop, most have websites where you can buy online. Wow. How cool is that? Some even have telephones – where you can talk to A Real Person. Now, here’s the deal: The wonder and magic of bookshops will only continue if you buy books from them. It’s really that simple.
I’m very pragmatic about my book buying – online is here to stay. The Australian book retailer Booktopia has become, in the last 12 months, a serious contender in the online arena. It has an extensive range, competitive pricing and, at the time of writing, fast, free shipping. They are currently in the process of buying out two other major Australian online retailers, the Penguin Random House-owned Bookworld and Angus and Robertson (which were previously owned by the REDgroup (remember Borders?) that went bust in 2011). I’m not sure how long they can sustain such a business model but, if you are a price conscious book buyer then you may as well make the most of it … Based on everything that’s happened in Australian bookselling in the last 20 years (which is not to say it will happen but these things tend to have a habit of repeating), they will either crash n burn in a year or two … or be bought out by Amazon …
Okay, BetterWorldBooks is based in the US but I recommend it to EVERYONE because it is possibly the coolest bookstore in the world. You see, it isn’t just an online bookstore – it’s a book recycler – keeping books from landfill and funding literacy and education in the process. Every book you buy from BetterWorldBooks they match with a book donation to either Books For Africa or Feed The Children. As they collect books from over 2000 sources (mainly colleges and libraries), they have an incredibly extensive range of new and out-of-print books. They ship free worldwide and the purchase price includes a small charge to offset the environmental impact of your book flying from the US. Oh, and many of the books are cheap as chips. And, yep, I’ve drunk the koolaid.
If price is your main concern when purchasing a book then Booko will be your first port of call. It’s not a bookseller but rather an Australian-based book search engine – sort of like google shopping for books. Booko searches major online book retailers and lists price and delivery time all on one page – so you are able to compare retailers such as booktopia, dymocks, wordery, the co-op bookshop, gleebooks and many many more – and then click-through to buy from the retailer directly.
A few years ago The Book Depository was better than xmas for obsessive bookbuyers like myself. It offered stupidly cheap books (often cheaper than the trade price bookshops buy at) with free shipping. Then it was acquired by Amazon (and the Australian dollar started to plummet so the prices went up) and it wasn’t much of an alternative to Amazon anymore. Now, the folks who started Book Depository (in conjunction with one of the UK book distributors) have setup Wordery. It is an independent bookseller with free shipping – from the UK. All of which would be wonderful except the Australian dollar is still crap. (I’ve not used Wordery but it has a fairly good reputation online still so worth checking out.)
So that’s my (current) top five book buying sources if you’re in Australia and looking for alternatives to Amazon but, while we’re discussing books, let’s not forget about:
Yes, eBooks are here and, until something better comes along, there will be a place for them but I’ve noticed the initial enthusiasm of a few years ago has waned and most booklovers I know have returned to paper books – reserving eBooks for travel or throwaway reads. Oh, and Kindle (and it’s proprietory file system) is owned by Amazon so if you like reading eBooks and wish to go Amazon-free then go with an non-Kindle eReader (iPad/tablet, kobo, sony, etc) that will read the cross-platform ePub file format.
Online bookstores and resources owned by Amazon
The secondhand and rare books search engine, Abebooks, is one I usually recommend for those sourcing hard-to-find or out-of-print books but, in researching this article, I found out it is owned by Amazon. Sigh. It is possible to use it as a search engine and then buy from the bookseller listing the book (sort of like reverse-showrooming!). Also, as mentioned above, The Book Depository is now owned by Amazon, as are the book resources Librarything and Goodreads. I love Goodreads so much but have recently been investigating other independent book recommendation websites …
The Great Australian Bookshops Directory
I’d love to tell you that all you need to do to find an excellent place to buy books in Australia is to go to this wonderful online directory but, alas, it doesn’t exist. Directories of Australian bookshops do exist but I’ve not been able to find one that isn’t years out-of-date. Most folks find out about great bookshops in their local area by word-of-mouth recommendation or exploring. So go forth, browse and tell your friends (and me!) when you find a great bookshop …
The inevitable disclaimer
As with everything on the internet, this info was correct to the best of my knowledge (and opinion) at the time of writing but, by the time this is actually posted, it may well be out of date …
Happy book buying!