Amazon: Not Cheaper or Faster For Buying Books?

Popular myth can be a beast. I’ve been hearing from my social circles a lot lately that Amazon is faster, cheaper, more convenient: “I love Barnes and Noble, but you know. Amazon has everything and it’s cheaper.” I thought that, too, if I stopped long enough to process it. But I haven’t bought books from Amazon for a while, so with chasing down buy links for my novel releasing this year, and stalking my critique partners’ books online, I started to notice something.

So, I tracked down all three of our upcoming releases to compare purchase price, shipping cost, and shipping times. Take a look:

From Powell’s

(same price for Joseph-Beth Booksellers and Books Inc. for all 3 titles.)

The Hit List: $9.95, paperback.Hit List

Anomaly: $9.99, paperback.

How We Fall: $17.99, hardcover.

Shipping is $3.99 for economy mail, no matter how many books you buy. $50 order total or more, and shipping is free. Arrives in 4-9 business days for economy mail or 2-7 for standard mail.

From Barnes and Noble:

The Hit List: $8.25, paperback.

Anomaly: $9.99, paperback.Anomaly

How We Fall: $13.31, hardcover.

Free shipping on orders over $25 for qualifying items (most new books). Arrives in 2-6 business days. Great membership program that’s free for 2 months, then $25 a year after that. Free shipping and arrivals in 1-3 business days, 40% off hardcover bestsellers.

Books-A-Million:

The Hit List: $8.25, paperback.

Anomaly: $9.99, paperback.HowWeFallCover

How We Fall: $13.31, hardcover.

Arrives in 3-7 business days. Free shipping for club members ($25 a year), or $3.00 plus $0.99 per item for non-members.

Book Depository:

The Hit List: $12.78, paperback.

Anomaly: $8.93, paperback.

How We Fall: $16.09, hardcover.

Free shipping worldwide, customer responsible for local shipping and taxes. Delivery times vary depending on country.

Amazon:

The Hit List: $8.42, paperback.

Anomaly: $8.99, paperback.

How We Fall: $13.31, hardcover.

Shipping is $4-5 for one book for non-members. Free shipping on orders over $35. Arrives in 4-5 days. Amazon Prime allows free 2-day shipping for eligible items, $99 a year.

Things to note:

THE HIT LIST is more expensive from Amazon than from B&N and BAM, and only about $1.50 more expensive from most indies. Varying shipping costs and a member program can easily make up that difference and even save you money, especially since Amazon’s prime membership is so much more expensive than B&N’s.

ANOMALY’s price varies by $1 no matter where you buy it. Amazon’s list price is $1 cheaper, but shipping is $4-5 if you aren’t a member. The cheapest option would be to have a B&N or BAM membership, or even cheaper, to bulk-order your books from Powell’s for 0 shipping costs and 0 membership costs.

HOW WE FALL’s price is more expensive from most indies, but B&N, BAM, and Amazon all have it for exactly the same price. Without memberships, the cheapest option is to buy it and another book or two in a $25 purchase from B&N. With memberships, the cheapest option is B&N. As a single-purchase item with no memberships, the cheapest option is Books-A-Million.

Amazon isn’t the cheapest option anymore. It isn’t the cheapest way to buy any of these books, once you count in shipping.

Amazon isn’t the fastest option, either, depending on your location. Barnes & Noble ships to nonmembers in 2-6 business days. Amazon’s nonmember shipping gets to me in 4-5 business days.

Amazon isn’t necessarily the most convenient, either. All these stores have fully functional websites and stock just about every book I could think to search. Amazon may not even have the book you want, given the issue with Hachette, and given that “shares are down sharply this year and analysts are cutting earnings forecasts” (see New York Times article linked before quote).

Even Amazon’s membership isn’t the best membership deal. B&N has a much cheaper per-year cost and greater discounts on books for members. Even for nonmembers, B&N’s “free shipping on $25″ is a great deal. I almost never order one book and ship it by itself, so this is convenient, cheap, and quick for me. Powell’s offers a similar deal for $50 order total (just place bigger orders less frequently; same cost.) with similar shipping times. Amazon’s shipping times and “free shipping on $35″ isn’t necessarily cheaper, faster, or more convenient.

No matter how you add it up, Amazon is operating within slim margins more or less expensive than any of these booksellers.

I didn’t calculate ebook costs, as ebooks for these 3 aren’t up yet at all of these locations and I don’t typically buy ebooks if it’s a book I really want to own.  Not having shipping and being able to click and have the ebook at a no-shipping price is great, and might tip the scales one way or the other, especially depending on what e-reader you have. (Though ANOMALY’s ebook is $5.99 at both B&N and Amazon.) And true, this is only based on three books.

I should also note that while you can buy writing/craft materials, games, books, music, and movies at many bookstores, especially the large ones, many more categories of products are available at Amazon. The wide variety available at Amazon does make their $99-a-year membership program more valuable overall, if you tend to order a lot of non-craft/media items online. I don’t. Clothes, food, furniture, gifts– I pick those out by hand. Even Christmas shopping, I tend to do in physical stores, because I make it a date with my husband and we get drinks and spend time discussing family members and what special item we could find for them while we browse. I wouldn’t give that up to buy most of my gifts online. So for me, Amazon’s membership is not cheaper, even given the variety of items available.

Basically, this boils down to Amazon not being a landslide better value. It just isn’t. The difference is small when it is a better value, and often it isn’t. And even when it does inch ahead in cost effectiveness, I’m going to vote with my dollars.

I have accounts at BAM, B&N, Books of Wonder, and Powells. I’m going to use them.

  1. Thanks for this! I’ve felt this way for years, long before the recent issue. BAM usually delivers faster than what they promise as well.

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