Saturday, September 22, 2007

The Mysteries of Amazon

Matt Curran has been musing (with only the tiniest touch of asperity) on why The Secret War has been absent from Amazon US for so long, and why, now that the book is there the synopsis is attenuated; and finally, he’s been wondering where the thing is published, as it is still listed as Macmillan New Writing.

Helpful as always, I can say with certainty that I haven’t a clue on the first two questions he poses. (There. Glad to be of service.) On the third matter—where the heck is this published?—I can engage in some meagerly informed speculation. People getting MNW books over here from Amazon US seem to be getting the same UK editions; the books seem to be shipped across the Atlantic to one of Amazon’s US warehouses. (Hence the “Usually ships within 4 to 7 weeks” estimate. Even my plumber’s estimates have a narrower range than that.)

But staring at the Amazon US and UK pages for Shock and Awe and The Secret War, I found other puzzles, as my book is now available from both sources as well. I’d been advising folks to order from Amazon UK, as it was available there first, the shipping time was shorter and the prices were about the same. But on close examination, given current exchange rates and the complication of shipping charges, I began to wonder.

Let’s take a look from the US buyer’s perspective, starting with Matt’s book. Amazon UK charges £2.99 to ship a book to North America, plus a £3.99 handling charge, resulting, at today’s exchange rate of £1 = $2.02, in a jaw-dropping shipping charge of £6.98 = $14.10. Amazon UK gives (or, to those speaking British English, who insist that a corporate entity is plural, ‘Amazon UK give’) a discount of £3.90 off the cover price of £12.99 for a price of £9.09, which in our wimpy US currency at the moment amounts to a price of $18.36. Add all that up, and for a US buyer, The Secret War from Amazon UK will cost £16.07= $32.46 delivered. (And probably get you on a Homeland Security watchlist, too. I mean, the title does sound a bit suspicious, doesn’t it?)

Ordering from Amazon US, the charges are somewhat simpler…at first. The book is priced at $26.27, which is very close to the cover price of £12.99, and the shipping is $3.99. Maybe. If you’re one of those obsessive sorts who reads footnotes, the shipping changes include the warning that *Books with listed availabilities of more than 3 weeks may incur an additional shipping fee of $1.99 per item. (Why this should be so is baffling. It seems like we’re being punished enough already by having to wait.) So, a US buyer ordering The Secret War from Amazon US will pay as little as $30.26 or as much as $32.25, depending on aspects formed between Mercury (communication and writing) and any planets you have in Gemini (which governs publishing), and on what was served in the Amazon cafeteria at lunch.

In other words, at the moment, depending on currency fluctuations, The Secret War costs pretty much the same for us Yanks whether we order from Amazon UK or Amazon US. Economists call this situation arbitrage. Other folks I know refer to this situation as ‘you can’t win.’

One would suspect that a similar arrangement would prevail for Shock and Awe. One would be wrong.

Amazon UK is selling Shock and Awe for £10.49 (£4.50 off the cover price of £14.99). That’s $21.19 to us colonials. Add the $14.10 shipping charges, and we’re up to a delivered total of $35.29.

Worth every penny, of course. But Amazon US is selling it for $20.04 (a savings of $10.32 off the cover price of $30.36—exchange rates do strange things). Add in the standard shipping of $3.99, and you’re up to $24.03. Or, with the mystical maybe-you-pay-it-and-maybe-you-don’t $1.99 surcharge, a total of $26.02.

Mathematics has never been my best subject, but even I can tell that $35.29 is a bit more than $24.03 (or maybe $26.02). Like $11.26 more (or maybe $9.27). So, without offering to give financial advice or holding myself out as a chartered accountant, I think I can state with confidence that Amazon US now offers the better deal on Shock and Awe for those living in the US. For now. That could change at any minute.

And, you might have to wait longer than when ordering from Amazon UK. Then again, you might not. Amazon UK has delivered MNW books to me within 10 days, but has on occasion taken up to nine weeks. Roll them dice!

One final note. I have mixed feelings about Amazon. I like the fact that I can order any book from them, and am not limited to what happens to be on the shelves of a local bookstore. And I like the fact that they can be used as a sort of free database. Amazon has done great things.

On the other hand, I’d rather pick up my books from a bookstore. Bookstores are the temples of our art. Many bookstores complain they can’t keep up with Amazon’s deep discounts, but Amazon’s pricing isn’t a favorable as it looks: once you include the shipping costs, Amazon’s delivered prices often aren’t that different from the cover price, and are sometimes more than you would pay in a bookstore.

Anyway, my sincere thanks to everyone who has bought Shock and Awe, from whatever source, despite the fact that the NYMEX market in January heating oil futures looks like a model of price stability in comparison. It's like a typical airline flight these days: every passenger has paid a different price. (Contact me if you want little baggies of free peanuts or pretzels.)


Jake Jesson said...

Regarding Amazon's shipping fees - those cease to be an issue on most items if you ship more than $25 worth of items per order. I haven't paid shipping on Amazon items since they started offering that. There are enough books on my 'want' list that ordering in bulk hasn't been a problem; if something I need is under $25, I pad the order with other books I want. It's a great way for me to rationalize buying books I don't need, too!

I do prefer bookstores, on the other hand, and shop there for used books and for books that Amazon doesn't discount.

Matt Curran said...

Hi David

Never understood Amazon either, to be honest. UK or US!

Like yourself and Jake, I prefer the old bookstore too. It's that tactile thing - I guess. The only advantage Amazon has is choice, especially on deleted books.

PS: The Amazon US version of The Secret War is published by Macmillan New Writng - in the States they obviously can't call it "New Writing" due to copyright or something...
Either that or they're just inept!

David Isaak said...

Hi, Jake--

Actually, we paid to join Amazon Prime, so we don't pay shipping even if we order books one by one.

David Isaak said...

Hi, Matt--

Just when I think I understand them, a new mystery emerges...

Never underestimate the ineptness factor, though. Amazon UK has a paperback edition of Smite the Waters listed...though it's "currently unavailable."