Horrors and errors of SOME independent book sellers

 

And what they tell us, of course.

Horrors and errors of SOME independent book sellers /img/independent-book-sellers.jpg

An online contact of mine, who lives in Bruxelles, recently posted on social media an interesting story. Here, I take the liberty to rewrite it, as it’s a great example of a general problem, not just for books.

Short, sad story about independent, but clueless book sellers

Jeff (not his real name) discovered a very interesting French book, and followed the recommended link to buy it online: the website of a “consortium of independent bookstores”, with a warehouse just outside Paris.

Perfect, said Jeff: let’s support independent businesses, local economy now or never, and so on.

The book price is 22 Euros, the procedure to buy it a nightmare. Click, add to cart, create an account: twenty minutes wasted filling out a two-screenful form, badly formatted, that asks everything and its contrary, and takes three attempt to understand the address.

Finally, checkout: total price 40 Euros, due to “shipping costs, from metropolitan France to Belgium: 18 euros”

Adding insult to injury, below the total there was fine print saying [paraphrased!]:

“Because of COVID, this order will most likely not arrive for Christmas. We don’t even know if it will arrive for New Year’s Eve. To be honest, we don’t know when and if it will arrive, but don’t be mischievous, you’re supporting independent bookstores!”

Three minutes later,

Jeff had bought the book on Amazon Prime, 22 Euros total, next day delivery included, with this note to independent bookstores:

  • Dear independent bookstores, you f****d up. Nobody forces you to sell online, or even to accept orders from abroad. I know there are independent French businesses that can ship book and more for much less than 18 Euros
  • I am also fine with not receiving the package within 48 hours. Seriously, if Amazon had a delivery option like “No hurry, I want NO courier risking a stroke to deliver this!” I’d almost always choose it
  • But if you sell online, do it seriously. Eighteen Euros from outside Paris to Bruxelles, without any tracking or guarantee, is an offense to both my brain, and to business sense

What did Jeff’s friends say?

Jeff’s post got many comments, which may be summarized as follows:

  • Bezos wins hands down, and it’s obvious why
  • Many “proudly 100% Made in Italy” artisans are just as hopeless, when it comes to selling online, so good riddance to them too
  • Even Amazon can be that bad. Like, asking 40 Euros to ship a 6 Euros book from Italy to Spain
  • There are independent book sellers who do a much, much better job than those Jeff met
  • This happens because so many small publishers will burn in Hell, before publishing e-books!

And then the real, big question

The one that came spontaneous to Jeff (and not just him), when he saw the shipping costs:

Eigtheen Euros to support fair trade by human entrepreneurs, but without any guarantee that “the working conditions of all the warehouse workers and riders involved are better than what Amazon offers?”

Fair question, isn’t it? I have written plenty about how bad Amazon really is, from robotizing workers to being unsustainably fast, for no reason, sending “free returns” straight to landfills (1), making orwellian telescreens and much more.

But that is a fair and important question indeed. Combine it with:

and a possible solution starts to emerge: transform what the Amazon shopping and delivery is today in a slow, worldwide standard on one side, push and support local administrators to create local, participated, sustainable shipping infrastructures (what about this?) on the other.

That could be a real big step towards something that does not exploit workers, and does not need 18 Euros to ship one book. Make Jeff happy, already! Not Bezos, this Jeff.

  1. there will be soon many more of those trashed returns now, not just by Amazon
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