Friday, April 10, 2009

Cheap books? What's not to love?

Dymocks has jumped into bed with Big W. Target and K-Mart, putting their differences aside because they want to bring you cheaper books and all you have to do is sign their petition. Squee. Sound too good to be true? That's because it is. It's positively wicked.

They want you to believe if the importation rules are changed, then you will be skipping through their stores filling your baskets with marvellous literature, then after throwing a mere handful of coins towards your new friends, you may proceed to read your fill, and what the hey, go back for more. This, as Bob Carr points out, is for the greater good, because then those poor little working class cherubs will also be able to participate in this frenzy of cheap books. (Oh good, so need to worry about education, access to libraries, or literacy programmes then? Dymocks will sort them out with the excess books America doesn't want. Still selling them at a profit mind you - extra profit in fact because they bought 'em so cheap.)

Dymocks says: "The current law stops us buying books at the lowest price to put in our stores for you to buy." Huh? How come then, you charge more than RRP in Australia, for books much smaller and more vulnerable booksellers don't see the need to overcharge? I happen to know your discount is greater than an independent bookseller. If Dymocks is telling you if it can get books cheaper at wholesale it will pass the saving onto the customer then they are LYING. Even if the importation laws were lifted and books could be bought cheaper (none of which has been verified), Dymocks has already shown it doesn't pass on its discounts to the customer. Please don't sign their petition.

Here are some other ways to get cheap books:
Don't shop at Dymocks or Borders because they frequently up the RRP of books. Compare prices with an Independent chain like Readings (and if you buy 2 or more books from the Readings website in Australia you get free postage) or your local bookseller.
Still think books are looking pretty pricey? Then join your local library. They're free! Most libraries have reciprocal arrangements and a book buying programme so you can request titles they don't automatically stock. And authors in Australia still receive payments from library books, so don't feel like you're cheating your author mates out of any money when you use your library card. Also libraries sometimes sell old stock for peanuts.
But you don't want to borrow, sometimes you just want to OWN. I getcha. Buy second hand (please note that as an author I have nothing to gain from the resale of my books. But I'm not writing this as an author. I'm writing as a booklover. Just not a Dymocks booklover.)
Lend, swap and borrow your books with like-minded friends (join a bookclub if you have no friends).
Check out
Ask for and give books and vouchers for Christmas and birthdays
And sometimes, just sometimes, accept the cost. Give yourself a tidy sum and the gift of time (an hour, two, or if your time rich, a whole day), and dammit go to the bookshop (a nice one where people let you browse). Open and close books. Linger in the poetry section. Breathe deeply. Enjoy being there. Feel the textures of the covers, run your fingers over the print, admire the typography. Sometimes good things cost money. That's okay.

I am not writing this as a writer. I have an inflated enough sense of self to feel sure I'd be able to get by even if the laws were changed and Australia became flooded with American and English books - I'll keep writing, and hopefully keep selling books, though I accept that I'd be looking at getting myself some pretty hot American and English agents. Yes, I'm worried for my friends in publishing and what would happen to them. But mostly I am writing this as a book buyer. I don't have much money, we've been living on half an income for the past four years. I buy books for presents, I buy myself a small handful of books for myself every year, often with a voucher, and these days I find myself lingering over the Penguin Classics first, for sheer bang for your buck. But I also want to be able to read Australian books, and I want my kids to read Australian books. I want Australians to be able to speak to each other and not have to be translated into American first. I want us to know each other, and be interested in each other's thoughts, to respect each other's cultural differences. Andrew Kelly writes about this eloquently here. We are still paying for a publishing culture dominated by colonial distribution for most of Australia's culture producing existence - arguably this is part of the reason why we have such endemic racism in our culture. The idea that we could become mere distributors again is chilling.

That's why, despite the fact that I'm a booklover, despite the fact that I too would like cheaper books (hey, Kev, about getting rid of the GST on books?) I would rather stick my fingers in my eyes than sign Dymocks' petition.