Internet Book Shopping: Why It Sucks


(There’s a question at the end of this, so if you don’t want to read my long story, skip there and leave a comment!)

Every time I go to buy a book online, I end up getting stuck in this terrible “get free shipping” game. After all, the free shipping saves you $10, easy, for books you already would buy anyway. But, therein lies the problem: you have to find books to fill out that $25 limit to get the free shipping, and the Internet does not make this easy.

For example, recently I found out I had $5 of “Borders Bucks” to spend. Since it would be a pain in the
ass to go all the way to the local Borders on a weekend (I don’t own a car and the bus isn’t all that great here on weekends), I decided this would be a good time to a) buy a book I really want and b) get some books that might come in use later during my graduate career. So, I set out to find a good book to buy, and even asked for suggestions from all of you in the process (thanks for the help, by the way).

Well, Borders, while wonderful and lovely and all that good stuff, made me work to use that $5. Half the time the books that I wanted were $5 cheaper on Amazon, which makes spending money on them rather pointless if I’m not technically saving any money. This let me to reduce my acquisitions to paperbacks. Then there was the long, drawn out process of trying to find good paperbacks to buy that weren’t too old and fit what I was looking for (“literary” SF/F). Borders doesn’t make that easy either. You see, the bookselling industry has no easy method you can use to find books that might cross over into the “fiction” or “literature” areas, even though they technically are science fiction or fantasy. So, as much as you might want to find them in the endless “fiction” section, you never will, unless you read every single page for every book (which, let’s be honest here, none of us are going to do).

This meant that I had to reduce my selections to those books labeled as science fiction and fantasy. Why? Because I do not read outside of those genres unless I’m forced to (or it’s a non-fiction book that is useful to me). I like SF/F. That’s all I like. Literary fiction bores the hell out of me and so does most everything else. That’s not to say I don’t like literary SF/F (I do, a lot, actually), just that I need a little weird in my fiction to keep me interested. As I’ve said before: I live in real life; I don’t particularly want to read about it.

By the time I got things narrowed down, I had already spent too much time trying to figure things out anyway. Then came the really hard part: actually picking the books. Anyone who shops online knows how hard that is. Lots of link clicking, lots of poor descriptions, missing information, and other issues that make it impossible to figure out if a book is worth your time. There is nothing that the Internet can do to make the book buying experience as entertaining or as efficient as being in an actual bookstore. Nothing.

Eventually I managed to narrow things down, but it was not easy by any stretch of the imagination. This makes me wonder if I should keep a running list of “books I want” so that when this happens again I can just start at the top and snatch them one by one. The problem is that I like to buy books that are fairly recent just so I don’t end up with some old thing that’s been sitting on a shelf for five years.

How do you all go about your online book purchases? I want to hear your stories and ideas!

About the Author:

Shaun Duke is an aspiring writer, a reviewer, and an academic. He is currently an Assistant Professor of Digital Rhetoric and Writing at Bemidji State University. He received his PhD in English from the University of Florida and studies science fiction, postcolonialism, digital fan cultures, and digital rhetoric.

9 thoughts on “Internet Book Shopping: Why It Sucks

  1. Buying books, or really anything online can either be a huge pain or a very easy experience. The trick is to know where to shop and what to look for.

    Your first mistake (besides getting a Borders card, but what can you do) was using Borders instead of something else to browse. There are plenty of blogs, reviews, etc. (if you trust them) out there that can help. Personally I rely a lot on word of mouth from friends (I have a very well read group which is lucky) and a library card that will help me figure out what is worth owning, what is worth giving a read and tossing it aside and what I should avoid at all costs.

    Another trick I have is to go into a Borders or a Barnes and Nobel when I know that I have a few hours to kill. Scout out a comfy chair and sit down with 15-20 books and read the first few pages or even a chapter or two. If it sucks, set it aside. If it is good write down the title, author and whatever else will help you to remember it and set it aside. After a few trips you will have quite a nice lists going that should last you a while.

  2. I love finding great books at B & N and then buying them for $0.01 on Amazon. When I have time, I go to my local used book stores and find true gems (thank you The Amazing Alfonzo's!)

  3. I have a running list of books I want to read, and when I find out a book has come out that I want, I add it to my Amazon shopping cart. The good thing about their cart, is that it keeps it there FOREVER! No matter where you purchase your stuff, you can keep a running list on Amazon, it will notify you if the price increases or decreases as well. I also have people tell me about good books that they have read, or that are getting ready to come out. I open my mind to new kinds of books too. You would be surprised at the kinds of novels that are out there if you look. I have a huge range of interests that keep me in books. I hardly ever want for anything to read, and there is never really any reason for me to re-read anything. I find that incredibly boring. Also, I have authors on Myspace that contact me and let me know about their works and on twitter too. I give them a shot as reading a new author with potential is amazing! I hope this helps!

  4. You just go about it all wrong. First, you ask for recommendations frequently. Make a list and leave them on there, because I'm sure you don't buy all that were recommended each time. Get to know who likes the same things you do (evidently not me) and take note of what you're reading. Pretty much everything I read lately has been read by Carr, or Fi, first. It seriously decreases the risk of buying something you'll hate.

    Secondly, get off your ass and go down to the freaking bookshop, Shaun. How long did you spend yesterday? Hours. You could have been there and back in half the time and spent half the money. And smelled the books.

    Thirdly, you're too easily conned into doing what the bookshop wants. You think they wanted to give you £5 free books? No. They wanted you to think, hey, I'll buy something worth more than £5, and get a nice discount! They earned way more than $5 just buy giving you that voucher.

    Fourthly, don't waste trips into bookshops. Look around, find books you want, then note them down.You know that 90% of the time they'll be way cheaper on Amazon, so unless you have a voucher for the physical shop, don't buy from there. Yes, it's kind of mean, but meh, you're poor. If you're going to spend money in actual bookshops, spend it in small, privtely-owned ones, the ones who need your business to stay afloat.

    Finally, Shaun, you have way too many books unread. Stop wasting your time browsing for them, and read them instead!

    In short, get some common sense. 🙂

  5. threegeekrichard: I used Amazon and other stuff to hunt down books :P. Lots of Google searches were involves. Borders is actually not bad. I don't have to pay for their rewards card and I don't get accosted with offers for a credit card every day…

    Generally speaking, I go into the story. In this case I didn't want to leave the house. But yeah, that's what I usually do: the long, several hour browse.

    Adam: That's one way to do it 😛

    Jodi: I haven't updated my blasted wishlist on Amazon for forever. I should maintain a list on there.

    Ellira: I don't want to get off my ass and go to the shop. It involves two bus rides :P. Technically Borders lost money on me, by the way. Borders is basically bankrupt, so why they are giving money away to me is beyond me. However, I do appreciate it and it is one of the reasons why it is my favorite chain bookstore.

    And, yes, I have too many books, but I am a collector. So 😛

  6. Side Note: Happy Early Birthday Wishes!!!!

    Blog Comment: I also stick to researching books at B&N & following up purchases at Amazon after reading the reviews. When I'm not sure about a book, I'll add it to my wish list so I can further contemplate and make a decision in the future. Plus, family and friends are able to invest in your list which can be a happy & unexpected surprise.

  7. Oh, the agony! They extrapolate what you might like from what you buy! You find out about stuff you wouldn't have dreamed was available! You start chasing collections! The savings! You start to live for the postman turning up! You get neurotic about stuff that doesn't arrive on time! Your life is no longer your own!

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