We really ought to buy more books. Despite book sales continually dipping, there has really never been a better time to buy books. Online competition is high with there being some huge retailers out there. This means the cost to the consumer is kept low. If you’ve decided you want to purchase a particular tome, a quick flick around the web should be enough for you to find what you are after at a pleasing price.
Of course, online purchasing doesn’t match the joy of wandering around a labyrinth-esque book-shop which will undoubtedly have tens of thousands of titles available at your fingertips. The upside of this is it makes impulse buying less frequent, and you’re unlikely to be drawn in by 3-for-2 offers, for example, in which you’re able to buy a book you’re never likely to read for nothing.
Here’s a rundown of the top ten places to buy books online. As a comparison test, we’re seeing how much at each site a copy of Yann Martel’s wonderful ‘Life of Pi” retails at, both new and second hand, if available.
No surprise at the number one spot in our list. Amazon has been around since 1994, and boasted sales of over sixty billions dollars in 2012 (although they still make a forty million dollar loss). Amazon.com began life as an online book-store, but swiftly diversified, selling CDs, DVDs, software, electronics and eventually virtually anything and everything. It remains the place for bargains, although you do sometimes end up spending more than you intended so you qualify for free post and packing. We found ‘Life of Pi’ new for £3.85, and second-hand for £2.77.
Once the place where people went to sell the rubbish they found in their attic, Ebay has evolved into a massive “retailer-by-proxy”. Hundreds of small companies now trade on Ebay, via tailored online shops. It also remains the place where you can pick up real book bargains, sometimes for prices as low as a penny. A quick search revealed new copies of Life of Pi available for 99p (but with £3.50 postage), and second-hand copies for the aforementioned penny plus £2.50 P&P.
For those not in the know, Barnes & Noble are the oldest (founded in 1873 by brothers Charles and William Barnes and their friend Clifford Noble in New York City) and the largest book retailers in the US. Of course, buying books for them in the UK is a bit of a daft thing to do, as the shipping costs would be extortionate, but if you’ve an e-reader (and B&N do their own, available in the UK for less than £30) then this is the site for you, as B&N attempt to wrestle the stranglehold Amazon and Apple have on the download market. We found ‘Life of Pi’ at $8.32, which is around a fiver.
Thankfully not run by Homer Simpson’s dad, Abebooks is the UK’s leading site to find rare and out-of-print books, although they are actually a Canadian company. They also offers cheap textbooks, which sounds like good news for penny-pinching students. Abebooks began life as “Advanced Book Exchange” in 1996, but in 2008 were purchased by greedy Amazon. As it hardly a rare book, we couldn’t find “Life of Pi” on the site.
Created in 1982 by Tim Waterstone, this operation has expanded over two decades into the UK’s leading dedicated book retailer. Most cities you go to has a Waterstones or two. The company was run by HMV for a while, but since 2010 have been independent again. Waterstones are currently embracing the e-book market, which is disconcerting news for bookshop-browsers. We found “Life of Pi” on their site for £6.29 (new paperback), and £7.19 (ebook).
William Henry Smith founded his store in London in 1792 and WHSmiths have been a familiar name on our high streets and in our railway stations and airports ever since. Smiths sells more than books of course – turning themselves into the mega-newsagents we are familiar with, especially after their takeover of John Menzies in 1998. Much of their extensive stock can be bought online, and we found “Life of Pi” available for £6.74.
An online-only retailer, Alibris began in 1997 in California, specialising in used and out-of-print books. Their pleasant-looking site is easy to navigate and very user-friendly, and they have branched out in films and music. We found a used copy of “Life of Pi” at 66p, and new paperback copies at £4.61 plus P&P.
Originally an American organisation, Better World Books began when three friends began to sell unwanted textbooks online to help support their local community centre. Following on from this premise, the idea of BWB is simple – people donate their unwanted books, BWB sells them and a share of the profits goes to good causes – BWB claim to have by now raised over £10M for literacy-based charitable organisations. We found “Life of Pi” available for £6.04, with the added bonus of you being able to re-donate it once read.
Not strictly an online retailer, Best Book Price is a free site that allows you to enter the name of any book (or CD, DVD or game) into its search engine. It will then go off and do its thing, and return what it considers to be the best and cheapest place you’ll be able to find the book you are looking for. We tried their search engine for “Life of Pi” and it directed us towards Foyles, with the promise of the book being free but P&P £2.50. Sadly, once we were at Foyles the price rose to £6.29.
Bookstore makes the claim on its site that it is “the UK’s online bookseller THAT PAYS ITS UK TAXES” – the upper case letters are there’s, not ours. We found “Life of Pi” on sale for £7.19 + P&P.