Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Feature: Book Ordering in the Philippines

Every Tuesday, I'll have a feature article posted.

Here's the quick, dirty low-down: there are lots of great books out there but you may never see those books stocked at local bookstores. Some people will simply give up while others will wait until a relative travels abroad and ask them to purchase that particular novel. In my opinion, one of the most under-used services of a bookstore is customer service. I used to be that shy, introvert customer myself and never thought of talking to the salespeople. But I want my books and by golly, I found a method to acquire them. Bookstores do provide the option of taking special orders and get you the book that they wouldn't otherwise stock. If you're looking for immediate gratification, no book ordering service will satisfy you but if you can manage to wait, this is your best option.

The 10,000-pound gorilla in book ordering is Amazon. However, that's not really feasible to the local market because they're based in North America and while they do give you huge discounts, one thing you must take into account is shipping. How expensive is shipping? Checking their shipping rates and using the cheapest option, books have an initial cost (i.e. the more items you buy, the lesser the per item costs will be) of $4.99/P215 and a per item cost (i.e. for every item you purchase, you're paying this fee) of $4.99/P215 again. What does this mean? Well, your average mass market paperback is in the $8.00 ~ $10.00 range. Let's say you're ordering Jim Butcher's Storm Front. The actual book is costing you $8.00 and if that's the only book you're ordering, you're paying an additional shipping cost of $10.00 (the initial shipping cost plus the per item cost). If you're ordering both Storm Front and Fool Moon, shipping will cost you $15.00 (the initial shipping cost plus multiplying the per item cost twice). Basically, what this means is that you're paying an extra $4.99/P215 for every book you buy at Amazon. That might not sound so bad but remember, we're talking about the cheapest shipping method and the books will arrive in 18 to 32 business days--which is anywhere from a month or two.

That's not to say you should never order at Amazon. The Chicago Manual of Style for example is an expensive book at $55.00. Thankfully, Amazon is giving us a discount of $20.00 so I'm still saving $10.00 if I order the book from them. I just have to wait for 18 to 32 business days for the book to arrive. Unfortunately, Amazon doesn't really solve my dilemma because despite doing all the math, I don't own a credit card so online transactions is moot. However, here's a tip: if you're intent on doing your shopping via Amazon, check out Amazon Japan or Amazon China (if you can understand Chinese). The former has an English-language interface and failing that, the site is a direct port of the American site. You can check out their shipping info in English. Now as Filipinos, you want to order from the Japanese site because 1) shipping is faster and 2) cheaper. 2~5 business days (a week) is quicker than any service a bookstore might provide and it's only setting you back Y300/P126 per item and an initial shipping costs of Y1900/P800.

Now if you're the type that doesn't own a credit card, afraid that your credit card account will be compromised, technophobic, or simply want to patronize local bookstores, below is a guide to the pros and cons of the book ordering system of the various bookstores. The procedure is simple: approach the customer service section of the bookstore and inform them that you want to special order a book. The more info (title, author, publisher, etc.) you give them about the book, the better. Personally, I give them the 10-digit ISBN (you can look the ISBN up at Amazon) so that there's no mistaking what book I'm interested in (many books share the same title and even if they don't, come in various formats such as hardcovers, paperbacks, limited editions, etc.). Book shipments is included in the list below and that fact informs you when the bookstore's new stocks arrive (and has a bearing on how soon you get the books you ordered).

Bookstore: Powerbooks
Anything purchasable at Amazon
Downpayment: 50% of the cost
Exchange Rate: $1.00 = P60.00
Delivery Time: 3~5 weeks
Discount: Discount cards apply
Book Shipments: Monthly.
Miscellaneous Comments: I personally haven't tried ordering at National Bookstore but the methodology should be the same.

A Different Bookstore
Anything purchasable at Amazon
Downpayment: 50% of the cost
Exchange Rate: $1.00 = P80.00
Delivery Time: 4~8 weeks
Discount cards apply
Book Shipments: Every 15th and 30th of the month
Miscellaneous Comments: This used to be the quickest method of acquiring books but I was recently informed that book shipments will be scaled down to once a month.

Bookstore: Booktopia
URL: http://booktopia.com.ph/
Virtually any book
Downpayment: 50% upon confirmation (see http://booktopia.com.ph/special-orders/)
Exchange Rate: $1.00 = P50.00
Delivery Time: 1~2 months
Discount: No
Book Shipments: Monthly
Miscellaneous Comments: Booktopia can theoretically try to acquire any book you're interested in as they not only sell brand-new books but secondhand books (and remainder copies) as well. Unfortunately, Booktopia has cut back on its shipping schedule and books may arrive once every two months.

Bookstore: Fully Booked
URL: http://fullybookedonline.com/
Anything purchasable at Amazon
Downpayment: No downpayment necessary for books under $30.00 each
Exchange Rate: Unknown (see Miscellaneous Comments)
Delivery Time: 3-5 Weeks
Book Shipments: Twice a month (roughly the weekend of the 15th and 30th of the month).
Miscellaneous Comments: For the record, I did place an order recently on various books (from indie publisher Night Shade Books and Prime Books--not necessarily the easiest books to acquire) but they never arrived so Fully Booked never got back to me. This is not the first time that I placed a book order with them and the staff never got back to me (even if just to say "no, we cannot acquire the books you ordered").

1 comment:

Jason Erik Lundberg said...

You might also want to check out BetterWorld Books. They sell both new and used books (with new books often discounted to Amazon's prices), with the proceeds going toward literacy programs around the world. Shipping is free within the US, but only US$3.00/book to anywhere else in the world (which is quite cheaper than Amazon), and part of the shipping cost goes to buy carbon offset credits to make up for the footprint of transporting the book. Inexpensive books plus a social conscience equals awesome.