Ah, where to buy books, that is the question. Well, you are probably saying to yourself, I don’t know how to buy a book, where do I even start? Well, fear not, I can guide you.
Starting Out: The Big 3
As a general rule, I like to start with the big kahuna, amazon.com. Amazon’s prices are generally fair, and sometimes they are the cheapest (Cloud Atlas, $10.17). After checking out amazon, I usually move on to Buy.com, occasionally they will have a book ridiculously cheap, but usually they are the same, or a little more than amazon.com (Cloud Atlas, $11.36). And last, but inevitibly least, I will check out bn.com, for shits and giggles (Cloud Atlas, $13.45 or Member Price $12.10). Barnes and Noble is never the cheapest and their website is also the worst. Now, I’m sure you are saying, is that it, do I stop here? Of course not, this is just the beginning.
Before I move on, I must point the rub of all the above sites. It is, of course, free shipping on orders of $25 or more. So really, you’re single book order, just turned into a double. If you are a reader, I’m sure there is at least one other thing you could find to your liking to bump that order into free shipping nirvana. Amazon and Buy both offer speedy economy shipping, I never pay for the expedited shipping (I’ll tell you why later). In this respect, Barnes and Noble actually has better service than its competitors two if you live in New York. They offer same day shipping in Manhattan, and it is also free on orders over $25, you really can’t beat that. Only drag with BN.com is that you pay tax in most states, whereas amazon.com and buy.com are tax free in most states.
Overstock.com is definitely worth checking out for books, they are very competitive and used to have a policy that they would always be cheaper than amazon.com. Despite what their name suggests, they carry most current books, in new condition, (not remaindered). Overstock might not offer quite as wide a selection as amazon.com, but it is nothing to sneeze at (Cloud Atlas, $10.10). The only drawback of Overstock is that they don’t offer free shipping, so your same copy of Cloud Atlas actually comes to $11.10 with shipping included (a reasonable $1) . If you only want one book, Overstock.com is usually the way to go.
Anywhere Else For New Books?
For new books, I can’t think of any other online retailers that I would seriously recommend. Well, you should probably take a look at strandbooks.com, but shipping will probably kill you there. Don’t fret, the end is a long way off.
Did I hear someone say used?
If you’re like me, and you don’t mind a gently used book, then why bother with new. Well, paradoxically sometimes new books are cheaper, but I will get into that later. I used to like bookfinder.com, which is a new and used book metasearch engine. I really haven’t used it lately, but it’s still around, and you may find it useful or at the very least, possibly interesting. In terms of other used book options, I tend to rely on two sites, and ignore two.
What, is this a typo? Nope. Remember that Cloud Atlas search we did before? Right beside the “Buy New” price, there is a link to “Used & new” from $6.56. Well, if you follow that through to near completion, you find out that shipping is $3.49, bringing your grand total to $10.05 (a whopping 5 cents less than buying new from amazon.com and the book you are getting is a “Very Good” condition used copy). So, you might want to think twice about that used copy in this instance, but, I will say, at times, a used book from amazon.com can be a very good deal.
Half.com: The Sweet Spot
The ebay owned Half.com is the place to go for used books. Why, you ask? Well, basically it boils down to this, they’ve usually got a great selection, prices are fair, and the shipping charges on books are less than amazon.com. Cloud Atlas comes in at $9.00 + $2.79 for shipping for a grand total of $11.79. Today, amazon.com (new or used) is cheaper than half.com, but bear in mind, the inventory on both sites fluctuates all the time, so ya gotta do your homework first. One caveat, don’t buy from a seller with a lot of negatives, even if they have lots of positives. I’m not a huge fan of high volume sellers, I’d much rather deal with someone a little more small time, they care a lot more about their ebay rating and probably won’t screw you. Power Sellers can deal with receiving a higher number of negatives, because they usually have an astronomical number positives. Don’t be fooled by a high aggregate number of positives, always check profiles so you know you aren’t dealing with a shyster. I will shy away from someone with too many negatives, even if they have the best price on an item.
Ebay and BN.com: The Bastard Children
Bn.com sucks for used books (as it does for new books). I mean, most people don’t even know that they have this feature because the results don’t come up in a regular search, you have to like, pick a whole other tab, then search, then add to cart. Anyway, as usual, BN.com comes out on bottom in useability and prices ($12.94 for Cloud Atlas).
What about ebay.com? Everyone loves ebay, everyone gets a bargain on ebay right? Well, I do like ebay, but not for books. First of all, despite my zest for a good deal, I do not want to spend 7 days waiting for a book auction to end in the hopes that I may or may not get it at the end. If I want a book, I just want to order it and be done with it (granted most people ship with the glacially slow media mail, but that bothers me a lot less than losing an auction). Second of all, the dirty little secret of ebay is that people rip you off on shipping. Usually, even if you get a book for a good price, you are at the mercy of the seller, who can charge whatever he or she wants for shipping, $5.00 is not uncommon, and you know by now that this will put you over the edge. I know you can always use Buy It Now to get the book and avoid the auction hassles, but 1) Buy It Now is not always available, and 2) You still can get ripped off on shipping. Despite all this, I’m sure if you try hard enough, you can probably find the best price on ebay, I’m just not willing to make the effort.
What If You Need it Now!
Very good question, sometimes, you can’t wait for the postman because your friends birthday is tonight and you got bubkis. In this case, I recommend a couple things. If you live in New York, The Strand is always a great place to go, they’ve got new books at good prices. If you have a little more time, say a whole day, and you are in New York, you can order the book in the morning from BN.com and then you should get it before you leave work. Ordering from BN.com is always cheaper than buying in the BN retail store, so you might as well if you got the time. If you want to take it a step further, you can order two books from BN.com to get free shipping and then return the other one to the store, you get your money back just like you would with a normal purchase, (they don’t add on the shipping or anything crazy like that). But what if you are really in a pinch, and not near The Strand and don’t have time to order from BN.com? Borders emails a lot coupons if you get on there mailing list, I regularly see 20% to 30% coupons from them in my inbox. So, in a pinch, I would recommend buying from a Borders retail store with a coupon. If you got no coupon, there is one other thing you can do, you can just buy the book at any bookstore, wrap it up and give to your friend, but don’t throw away the receipt. Once you get home, log on to your favorite website (as discussed above) and order a new copy of the same book. When it shows up in a week, return your online copy to the place you originally bought it. Now this of course, has both legal and ethical problems, and will eventually lead to the death of society, so I’m not advocating it, I’m just saying, one could do this, if one were so inclined.
Is That It?
Pretty much. Used book stores can provide good deals from time to time, but generally what you’ll find online is better. The best deals on books I’ve ever gotten were at neighborhood stoop sales, but they are hit and miss. Good luck and happy reading Muggles.
PS – Don’t Forget Your Portals
If you use bn.com or buy.com to buy your books, you might as well buy through some kind of shopping portal. Mypoints.com offers 2 points for each dollar spent at buy.com and 4 points for each dollar spent at bn.com. Points can be redeemed for various types of rewards, such as gift cards at Macy’s, Bloomingdales and even the inimitable Barnes & Noble.