Bargain book buys

It's little surprise that overseas shopping sites are turning up some of the best bargains.
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Considering the direction the industry is taking, CHOICE assessed the different options available to Australian consumers when deciding where to buy their books. We  purchased the The Girl who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest by Stieg Larsson;  The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court by Jeffrey Toobin; and Australian hit The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas. Read how the retailers we purchased from rated for price, range and service.


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Amazon Base: US Price: $51.97 The Nine
Delivery: All books arrived 14 days after the order was placed.
Cancelled book: No. Items were packed and dispatched eight hours after the order was placed.
Returns policy: Within 30 days, in new condition, at buyer’s expense unless due to fault or incorrect delivery.

Verdict: The American giant won third place in this year’s People’s CHOICE Online Retailer of the Year Award. But beware the hidden costs in shipping charges – $4.99 per shipment and $4.99 per book. Still, their range is huge, books are mostly in stock, and turnaround time is quick – when we asked to cancel The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest, the books were already on their way.
There’s a live help option where all your questions are answered by a live chat operator. The Amazon Marketplace also facilitates the buying and selling of used books.

The Book Depository International
Base: UK Price: $35.68
Delivery: The Slap arrived 15 days after purchase. The Nine arrived six days later.
Cancelled book: Yes
Returns policy: Within 30 days, in perfect condition, at the buyer’s expense unless due to a fault or incorrect delivery.

Verdict: With free shipping to almost anywhere and bargain basement prices on a huge variety of books, it’s no wonder The Book Depository made the top 10 favourite online retailers at the 2011 CHOICE Awards. It was the cheapest retailer by far – more than $16 less than nearest rival Amazon, and more than 50% less than the Australian bricks-and-mortar equivalents. It was also the slowest, taking three weeks to deliver the entire order. But customer service was exemplary, with an email request to cancel a part of the order promptly dealt with.

Booktopia Base: Australia Price: $61.20
Delivery: The Slap arrived 14 days after purchase. The Nine arrived three days later.
Cancelled book: Yes
Returns policy: Within 90 days in new condition in exchange for store credit, at buyer’s expense.

Verdict: Booktopia is a good option for those who want to take advantage of online savings but prefer to shop locally. Prices for our books were slightly higher than at Amazon and almost double those at The Book Depository, but product range is comparable, with Booktopia claiming to have more than two million titles available to buy. And those who prefer Australian literary gems are more likely to be catered for. Shipping charges are low – a flat $6.50 per order – and customers are given the option of free pick-up at the company’s Sydney premises. Booktopia’s delivery policy is to bundle-ship items unless stragglers take more than a week to arrive, though you can pay a premium for immediate delivery book by book. Because of this policy, we had to wait 14 days for The Slap. Service is good, with email addresses and a phone number prominently displayed on the website for customer care purposes, and with prompt cancellation and refund of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest.

: Australia
Delivery: Instant for available books. Six days for The Nine.
Price: $73.95
Returns policy: With receipt within 60 days for refund, but limited to certain books.

Verdict: There are more than 96 Dymocks retailers nationwide. However, while it is large, it does not have the range of books available at the online retailers, nor did it deliver on price. Dymocks did not stock The Nine, and we got mixed messages from Sydney and Melbourne stores about whether a copy could be ordered in. But their Booklover loyalty program rewards frequent shoppers, they send out newsletters with book news and reviews, and their stores display staff recommended reads. They also hold special events and readings.

Price: $73.95
Delivery time: Instant for available books. 10 days for The Nine.
Returns policy: Within 14 days with receipt for refund, otherwise exchange or gift voucher.

Verdict: This independent Sydney icon has expanded over time to six stores. With a dedicated children’s shop and an antiques and second-hand store, as well as four other branches, there’s a good range of products. Staff are also happy to order in books that aren’t in stock – they managed to have The Nine in store 10 days after the order was placed, beating out all their online competitors on speed. Price-wise, the independent is on par with Dymocks for these books, despite the larger chain’s bulk-buying power. Gleebooks is always a hub of activity, with a number of events on every week including author talks and workshops.

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