Although New York is definitely not the book wonderland that it once was, it still has quite a few places for the hard-core bibliophile to curl up, search the stacks, and find a great book at a great price.
However, as a cheapskate and recovering bookaholic, I tend to check out books from the library first, choosing only to buy the ones that I really, really need. By following this method, I've managed to cut down my yearly book purchases to only a few dozen volumes; by my standards, this is just a small fix, a little something to get me through.
This, by the way, is the bibliomaniac version of methadone treatment.
At any rate, I currently have a list of five or six books that I really, really need. A couple of weeks ago, I took a trip to a few of my favorite bookstores to check out their prices on used copies, only to find that the stores were charging pretty high prices. Later, I searched my favorite internet used book sites, ABEbooks and Half.com, where I found the books at steep discounts. I added up the books on ABE, hit the "total" button and watched as the price almost doubled. I'd forgotten about postage.
As the price of gas has risen, so has the cost of moving items from point A to point B. While most carriers, such as DHL, UPS, and FedEx haven't officially raised their rates, they add a flexible surcharge to the price of a shipment. This surcharge, which covers the cost of gas, has gone up precipitously over the past few months. For example, in late 2007, UPS was charging a 4.75% surcharge. They're currently tacking on an 8.5% surcharge. According to a recent PayPal survey, 43% of consumers who change their minds at checkout do so because of the high cost of shipping.
What can you do about this? Well, the first option you have is the good old US Postal Service. Although it raised itsrates about a month ago, the USPS still generally represents the best bargain in small-package shipping, particularly if you don't mind waiting in line!
Another option is to order multiple items from the same seller. Admittedly, this isn't as helpful on sites like ABEbooks and Half.com, where the sellers tend to have a small, diverse collection of items. However, on eBay, Amazon, and other sites, many sellers are willing to package items together to reduce shipping costs, or even drop shipping costs if your purchase is sufficiently expensive. Another option that Amazon offers is "Amazon Prime," which allows a user to get unlimited shipping for an annual fee. If you regularly use Amazon, this can end up being a great bargain.
Finally, one last option is actually getting off your butt and going to a store. After I compared the shipping-adjusted prices of my books, only one of them was still cheaper on the internet. All the others were less expensive at the real-life bookstore!
Bruce Watson is a freelance writer, blogger, and all-around cheapskate. He's kicked cigarettes, Mickey D's, and his pizza addiction. Books, however, he'll take to the grave.
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