After recently arriving back home from a year in the UK, I've been increasingly frustrated with the lack of availability and high price of books here in Australia. More than that, I didn't understand why there are no good online book retailers in Australia, even the good physical retailers don't have good online stores - none of them1. That was, until I read an article today by Chris Berg which flicked the light switch for me - even if it didn't solve the problem.
It had bewildered me before I left that there were no good online book sellers in Australia2, and since I've been back it's actually been making me kind of angry that there isn't an Amazon.com.au. I had no idea there was a ban on parallel importation of books, but there's the answer.
Amazon in the UK (and I assume the US) is one of the most fabulous things. You can get any book, new or old, at a competitive price into your mail box within a day or two. Mid way through last year I was out one morning, and having forgotten about a friend's birthday, went in search of a present knowing I'd be seeing him later that day. Before long I had decided on a book; specifically, An Acre of Barren Ground by Justin Cartwright which I had read a couple of years earlier and felt would be perfect3. Despite calling in at more than half a dozen book stores I couldn't get it. None had it in stock, though all offered to order it in for me - it would only take a few days (read 4-8 working days) and they all put the price at around about £15 (which I would have paid had they had it in stock). In the end I decided to turn up empty handed and order it from Amazon; I knew they would, as always, have what I was looking for. I picked up a brand new copy for about £1 more than the £1.26 a used copy would have set me back. The postage ended up being more expensive than the book and it was through my mail slot in 3 days.
It's not only online retail being affected. Why, for example does a classic like Virginia Woolf's Mrs Dalloway cost more than twice as much in an Australian Borders than it does in a UK Borders? I'm sure the publishers have it figured out, but at that price point, they're losing at least me as a customer. I thought nothing of picking up another classic for £2 to read on my London commute, but at $10, I'm going to need to really want to read it.
We are, as Chris points out, far from having an open market in literature. I hope that changes.
- I really mean that, there are none. The best I've found is Booktopia, and I don't rate it highly. If you know of any better ones, please let me know I'll be forever grateful. [↩]
- Yes, all the big overseas ones will ship here, but it'll double the cost of your book. [↩]
- This is a wonderful book about the East End of London (specifically, Brick Lane) which I highly recommend. [↩]