Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Books Away! Dilemmas with Book Shipping Fees

There are two common scenarios for disappointment with shipping. Both start the same way. You're looking on one of the book or auction sites for a title you really want. You find it at a good price, but then you look again - shipping is $7+ for media shipping. That's scenario #1. The second scenario kicks in when you actually get the book. Let's say you paid $4 for shipping. But when you get the book, it is packaged loose in a padded envelope, which does little or nothing to protect book book. You may or may not see the actual shipping cost, but either way it's a poor result.

These two events happen all the time, and the blame is shared most everyone selling books.


In the first case, the seller is clearly overcharging for shipping. Rare books, oversized or heavy books, or even expensive book can cost that much regularly (or more) if packaged well and insured. But when buying though any site where a seller sets the price for shipping, Anything above $5 is too much for an average octavo sized book, if not insured, heavy, rare or expensive. For us, media shipping is around $2.25, .35 cents for the box, and perhaps 75 cents (at the most, it can be cheaper). $3.50 generally is the most shipping will actually cost us for media mail in the US.

The second scenario is far more common on sites where shipping fees are capped, or when the book itself is quite cheap. The quiet policy of sites like Amazon, Alibris, and recently ABE is to take a chunk of the shipping fee for their own use. For Alibris and Amazon, that fee is approx. $1.34-1.35 per fee. Amazon compounds this by not allowing discounts with the same seller (feel free to let me know in the comments if I am mistaken here, but I don't think so). There fore, sellers do not get the $4 a buyer pays for shipping. They receive about $2.65 or so. Many seller respond by shipping the cheapest way possible, and that means the lightest possible packaging in least expensive package. Indeed, some sellers make more money on the shipping, than they do the book itself, if the book is very cheap. And, given the math I shared with you above, that means we at Motte & Bailey lose money on shipping. We often do. Pretty much anyone who wants to ship a book properly does.

In both cases the buyer is not getting the service for which they paid, partly out of greed by the bookseller and partly out of greed by the bookselling sites. Business models are business models. They can be whatever is not illegal. But, like most folks, if I pay $4 for shipping, I want to see $4 in shipping. For sellers, I can understand the cost of materials in shipping fees, and insurance if need be. But everything else should be in the price of the book.

Likewise, the bookselling sites are taking part of the buyer's cost of shipping and simply pocketing it. For what? The best argument they have is that they are charged a fee when processing the credit card fee for that Amount. I understand that, but no credit card company charges 33% on a four dollar charge. None. It is simply a money grab, and the result is shoddy shipping practices are reinforced across the board. It is my greatest irritant in dealing with Amazon and Alibris.

There is nothing illegal about trying to generate income from shipping, but it has always smacked of sharp practice to me. Shipping should be a covered cost, not an income generating service, unless you are UPS or FedEx or the Post office. It costs sales, goodwill, and often the book itself, damaged or destroyed when the cheap packaging gives up its already tenuous ghost.

So look for shipping costs. Go to various websites. Buy direct as much as possible. For us, we offer free media shipping when people buy directly from our site, as it saves us money from a host of fees and delays that accompany any sales at the big book sites.

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3 Comments:

Blogger Monty Pennington said...

I absolutely dreaded ordering stuff overseas before, i ordered a pair of flip flops for summer and they came in after the season had passed. I used to hate it but my friends told me about these new gps trackers that they have on certain shipping vessels. That got me back into being an impulsive e-shopper.

1:43 AM  
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3:12 PM  
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7:03 AM  

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