Currently Reading

Currently Reading: The Undivided by Jennifer Fallon

Friday, October 8, 2010

The price of books in Australia

Why do books cost so much in Australia? If I go into an Australian book selling chain and pick up a mass market paperback it will cost from $18 - $25. It’s pretty brutal to see that $25 sticker then flip the book over to read that it’s R.R.P. in the US is $7.99. To give perspective, according to the current exchange rate (which I realize is flexible, while book prices tend to be static) 1 Australian Dollar buys over 0.97 US Dollars. I heard numerous Americans complaining about the prices in the Dealers Room at Aussiecon4. John Scalzi complained about prices in general in Australia (naturally, he was lamenting the cost of Coke Zero).

I bought the entire Wheel of Time series (up to Book 12) in the US Hardcover (from overseas, so consider postage) for approximately the same price it would have cost to purchase the mass market paperbacks from an Australian bricks and mortar store.

I know there must be costs that I don’t understand, and I don’t want to see these stores fail, because even if I’m just browsing I enjoy being surrounded by books. People already talk about the Ebook revolution damaging these stores – if they’ve survived the competition of online stores for so long, maybe they are pretty secure, at least in Australia.

I’ve bought some things from Amazon, generally items I couldn’t get anywhere else. Their prices are great, especially with the Australian dollar up like it is at the moment, but because it’s those darn heavy books that I’m buying the postage often costs a similar amount to the book itself. Postage from the US to Australia is pretty prohibitive. Enter Book Depository – based in the UK and offering free postage, even to Australia! I’ve bought so many books from there it’s like a sickness. Because of prices in Australian stores shopping online is like walking into a sale where items are reduced by 50-70%. How can you not buy? Is the business model of these online stores, where they buy in bulk and bear the risk of not selling books themselves (they can't send remainders back to the publisher if I understand correctly) really so significant in lowering the price?

I really enjoy going into Borders, grabbing a coffee and reading a magazine or two, or the first few chapters of a new book. I don’t tend to purchase a lot of books from Borders (maybe 7 or 8 this year, which isn’t a tremendous amount relative to my purchasing habits) and those that I have purchased have been from Australian authors whose work isn’t readily available online.

For big fans of reading, whether it’s Speculative Fiction or any other genre, it will always be important to support book stores. I have particularly made the effort to purchase books from a local independent seller called Infinitas Books because they offer things that online stores can not. Community is often centred around these stores. Infinitas offers books clubs, writing groups, gaming meetups, etc. And they bring authors to meet the fans. Authors can’t visit you in the mail (yet…). Is it worth paying more, sometimes as much as double, to protect these stores and what they represent for the reading community?

Incidentally I used to notice the same thing with video games. A brand new Xbox title in the US would sell for US$49.99 while we would pay AUD$99.99 – is that markup really accounted for by exchange rates and import costs?

Why is everything so expensive in Australia?

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