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.


  1. Anonymous4:22 PM

    Brava. Just brava.

  2. Anonymous10:28 PM

    The interim report of the Productivity Commission is a very scary read. They truly know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

  3. I was going to say "hear, hear!"
    But I see someone else did.

    This is just perfect, Penni. It makes me so angry. What the hell is bloody Bob Carr, supposedly Australia's most literary politician, DOING? Dickhead.

    I used to work for Dymocks and I am now ashamed that I did. Boo hiss.

  4. Well, he is on the board of Dymocks, so I guess he's looking after himself.

    I found this sum up of his 'reading life:
    "From the Bible to Homer, modern politics to John Le Carre's crime fiction, Bob Carr tells us what's worth reading."

    Well, yes, possibly those books will be cheaper. Notice the complete absence of contemporary Australian literature. Is Bob Carr buying into the cultural cringe? Does he really not care about Australian books?

  5. I don't get why you wouldn't support a petition for cheaper books? We pay up to three times as much as Americans or the English for the same book, suffer a restricted range and don't have any decent bookstore chains in Aus. I'm not defending Dymocks but surely the way to reduce book prices is to increase competition? I used to love visiting Borders in the USA, grab a book off the shelf and sit in their cafe reading their stuff for free all weekend. Surely this is the benefit of a competitive book market?

  6. Richard, did you read the post?

    I don't get why anyone would be naive enough to think that signing the petition will result in cheaper books.

  7. Look I understand for an economic rationalist that when you approach books purely as a consumer product it probably seems like a great idea - more competition means cheaper prices - it works for airlines and toothbrushes, so why not books?

    For a start, books are not just consumer objects. Pretty much every toothbrush does the same thing, but books are unique and you can't compare the value of one book against another. Yeah, sure, there'll probably be lots more remaindered American books (the excess stock they can't sell) on the market, especially kids and YA, but there won't be more Australian books. These books will probably become more expensive, and more difficult to buy. As an economic rationalist you'd probably argue that if Australian books can't compete with overseas titles then they don't deserve to exist. This is rubbish, we need Australian books, just like we need Australian news services. And we need to write about ourselves FOR ourselves, otherwise everything will look like Luhmann's AUSTRALIA - where Australia is a shiny object packaged for an overseas consumer.

    Since there is no guarantee at all (even the commission admits this) that changing the laws will actually create cheaper books I don't think there's any benefit in changing the laws, and thus selling writers, editors, publishers, marketing and publicity staff, book designers, independent booksellers and sales reps down the river, on the off chance that Dymocks and Borders can up their profit margins.

    My other point is that there is no reason to believe that there will be cheaper books when Dymocks and Borders (already buying at a greater discount than a small independent) are charging ABOVE retail anyway. Why would they change that practice?

  8. I don't think Bob Carr does care about Australian books or read contemporary Australian literature. I suspect he's one of those infuriating literary people who say, when pushed (or even when not) that they don't read contemporary literature, and especially not Australian literature, because there's no guarantee it's good and their time would be better spent reading all those classics that provide a bedrock of literary knowledge, because so much trash is published these days. You know, 'why read today's latest sensation when I could re-read Chekhov?' I kind of get that gist of argument, but I don't like it or agree with it. I won't name the significant local literary figure I heard spouting that a year or so back and was saddened by.

  9. charlotte3:16 PM

    Dymocks director Bob Carr has no regard at all for contemporary Australian fiction, as he proudly announced at the Sydney Writers' Festival last year.

    He described contemporary Oz fiction as “repetitive, gimmicky, and derivative”, and said he would rather reread the Classics. As you point out Penni, lots of the classics are already beautifully cheap, and so I imagine thousands of them are already whizzing from Dymocks into the hands of all the working-class children Dymocks and Mr Carr care so deeply about.

    See here for Bob's disparaging remarks about Australian books not written by him:

  10. We started a book swap shelf at work where we leave anything we don't feel we need to hang on to, and can grab someone else's rejects to read. It works pretty well, and that's another way to get cheap books.

  11. Great idea Rebekka. SOme of my most treasured books are books that I've picked up through hotel swaps on my travels. (Er, I always come home with a lot more books than I started with, because I fall in love with them - this is how I acquired When We Were Grown Ups by Anne Tyler and Hideous Kinky by Esther Freud).