Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Book learning

It all started with a book, and ended up being a lesson in the need for caution—and a bit of extra work—when buying books over the Internet.

I’ve said in many different posts how expensive books are in New Zealand, especially compared with prices in the US, with its obviously enormous market compared to New Zealand. This is something that nearly every American expat I’ve spoken with has mentioned.

So, I needed a book, the “Classroom in a Book” for Adobe Premiere Pro. I looked at Amazon for the Kindle version because, as I’ve often said, an ebook version of a book dealing with computer software is the most sensible and affordable option; not only are such books usually insanely expensive, they also go out of date quickly—a version change or two later, and they’re not terribly useful. When we had a clean-out last summer, we got rid of a many kilograms of hopelessly outdated computer software books.

However, the Kindle version wasn’t available, apparently because of a problem with it, but the paper (“dead tree version”, as I call it), was on special. The same book wasn’t available at the two New Zealand online retailers I’ve used before, Whitcoulls and Fishpond. So, I decided to place a full order with Amazon, one including that book and others.

Afterward, I did a price comparison between Amazon, Fishpond and Whitcoulls. This wasn’t entirely easy: In addition to the Adobe book, another item wasn’t available. A couple other items were slightly different (a paperback instead of a hardcover, for example).

So, excluding what wasn’t available in New Zealand at all, the prices of the books from Amazon were much lower than those books would be from NZ suppliers: Fishpond was 28% higher, Whitcoulls just under 42% higher. So, I saved heaps by ordering through Amazon, right? Well… no…

The NZ suppliers offered free shipping, while Amazon charges—a lot. The difference between the slow boat shipping (14-30 days shipping time) and reasonable shipping time (7-10 days) was less than US$20, so I chose faster. As it happens, the package arrived almost exactly four days after I placed the order, which is slightly better service than I got from Fishpond, but dramatically better than I got from Whitcoulls, which took an astounding14 business days—the better part of three weeks (the book shipped from Australia).

Everything has a cost, however.

Add in the shipping charges and the picture changes: Fishpond would have been about $4.37 cheaper for the same order, though Withcoulls would have been about $21.25 MORE expensive. This is all academic, of course, because I wouldn’t have bought those books online anywhere if I hadn’t been after a book I couldn’t get any other way. And, it makes sense to place a larger Amazon order rather than a smaller one, due to those shipping charges, which don’t escalate dramatically when you order more.

The lesson in all this is that sometimes books are actually cheaper through NZ-based suppliers than they are from Amazon, which may come as a surprise to some American expats, I’m sure. However, the only way to know is to compare prices, something many people don’t want to take the time to do.

My own advice is to first check for NZ-based suppliers, and if that item isn’t available in New Zealand, or if the cost is dramatically higher here, it may make sense to order from overseas. It’s also worth noting in this context that just because the supplier is NZ-based doesn’t mean the book won’t actually come from overseas, too.

So, I was very pleased with the service I got from Amazon and with the prices of the merchandise. However, the shipping prices are so high that in future I’ll check very carefully before placing an order. It wouldn’t have mattered this time, but in the future it might.

And one final twist: Having looked at the book that started all this, I was better off buying the “dead tree version”, after all: It comes with a DVD with the lessons and other files to help users learn the software.

Live and learn, indeed.

1 comment:

Roger Owen Green said...

yay, dead trees and and shiny metal objects!