Bargain book buys

It's little surprise that overseas shopping sites are turning up some of the best bargains.
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01 .Introduction


The demise of Borders and Angus & Robertson highlights just how competitive the book retailing industry is, largely due to the growing popularity of online retailers. To see what the average Australian consumer can expect, CHOICE put a selection of book retailers to the test. We purchased three titles from the following:

We bought the same three books from each: bestseller The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest by Stieg Larsson; the older, more obscure The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court by Jeffrey Toobin; and Australian hit The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas. We compared them for price (including shipping and in Australian dollars), speed of delivery and product range. We also assessed service by attempting to cancel one item eight hours after placing an online order.

Read what we found. See also the results of our 2009 survey on members' favourite online book retailers.

The growth in Ebooks

Readers are increasingly interested in eBooks (see our test of eBook readers). Electronic versions often cost less than their paper equivalents, but the range isn’t great for Australian consumers. Of the books on our list, CHOICE was able to pay less for The Slap and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest in electronic form, but we couldn’t find The Nine in our region.

Online vs bricks & mortar

Bricks-and-mortar stores, while often more expensive, hold some distinct advantages over the online shopping experience. These include:

  • the immediate satisfaction of getting a book as soon as you want it
  • the tactile sensation of browsing the shelves
  • the help of knowledgeable staff 

There's also the ethical advantages of shopping locally and encouraging employment at home. But online stores are catching up. Many analyse browsing or purchasing history to make personalised recommendations, circulate e-newsletters with views and reviews, encourage loyalty through online book clubs, and offer pre-orders of upcoming releases, which can be delivered to your door the day they go on sale.

Shopping with a conscience

Those who want to take advantage of bargain-basement prices but also do their bit for the planet are catered to by Better World Books, a US-based online store that’s giving The Book Depository and Amazon a run for their money. Aside from selling new titles, Better World Books also sells second-hand books collected from schools, colleges, libraries and charity shops around the US, saving tonnes of tomes from eath by landfill. A share of the profits (so far more than $9.3 million) is distributed to literacy programs around the world. Like Amazon, Better World also provides a marketplace in which books can be bought and sold. Worldwide shipping directly from Better World is free, while marketplace books attract a $7.97 per book flat fee. All in all, the prices are some of the cheapest around, and then there’s the warm, fuzzy feeling of placating your social conscience – priceless. 

Compare and save

If you want to find the cheapest online books without visiting each site individually, try Booko. Consumers need only search once – Booko does all the hard work for you. It trawls most local and international retailers and reports on their prices in Australian dollars - it also includes shipping.


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