Books: On-line shopping (Part 1)

Ten years ago I would visit book shops and buy books.

Due to rising costs of books in Australia I switched to borrowing books from the library or buying second-hand.

More recently I discovered online shopping and my whole way of shopping changed.  There is now very little I don't buy online.  It saves me time and money, I can do it at any time of the day or night and there is no need to find a car park.  I use both Australian and overseas sites.

And in the last 12 months I have started to buy ebooks, these are even cheaper.

The evolution of book selling has changed rapidly in a very short time . . . for me, this has been exciting.  I can now buy books (many books at one time) from overseas and save.  One book overseas can be a 1/3  in cost compared to a bookstore in Australia. This means I can buy 3 books for the price of one in Australia.  As a consumer this is excellent news.  I also have access to a wider chose of books, some we simply can't get in Australia.

With the improvement of the Australia dollar, I am now getting even more for my money.  And this is important - I need to use the family money wisely and if this means going off shore, then this is a wise choice.

But like everything, my decisions of shopping online has a consequence.

Local booksellers are suffering - this has been evident with the closure of a number of Borders and Angus and Robertson stores and these are our biggest bookstores in Australia.  What is happening to the small independent stores? 

This raises a moral question - do I spend more and buy at my local book store or save and buy online? Sadly, the choice is very stark, shopping online is a far better option.

However, shopping online does have some disadvantages - you can't see the book, (I have found this to be a problem with art, photography and cooking books), you can't talk with someone to gain advice and you need to wait for it to be posted (I usually wait 2 weeks).   The personalised service on the net is generally limited. Sadly, for booksellers, I have found ways around most of these problems.

And as to ebooks, this is an even harder issue for booksellers - these are much cheaper, I can review the book online before I buy, I can read reviews and they are quick and easy to load. I bought 3 yesterday evening at 11pm and they were loaded onto my tablet in less than a minutes per book.  The small bookseller cannot compete with that.

So what should I do . . . and this is the dilemma . . . I will continue to buy the bulk of my books from overseas, will continue to buy ebooks (they are both convenient and space saving) and buy occasionally from specialised booksellers here in Australia eg Christian booksellers.

PS I had been thinking of writing an article about online book buying, however I was prompted by my cousin (Bets), who, with her husband, run a small private home based Christian book bookstore and are seeing firsthand the affects of online buying plus the change to the Australia dollar. Thanks Bets for bringing this to my attention and many like you.  I don't know the answer, but I am fully aware that I am contributing to this dilemma by the changes in my own shopping habits.



  1. Thanks Jo for your interesting thoughts.
    On the ethical issues, the "woman who fears the Lord"(Prov 31:30) is commended for making wise, careful purchases (Prov 31:16). She does this not out of selfishness or greed, but rather the opposite, so she can give more to the needy (v. 20) and so her family's needs are always supplied (v. 21). So, buying wisely is good, provided the motives are right, and unselfish use is made of the money "saved".
    We buy quite a bit second-hand, especially books, clothes, and some baby goods (cot, etc.), which saves a lot of money, and puts second hand goods to use rather than thay they go into landfill. Buying from op shops also helps those charities that run them, to be able to give goods and services to the really needy.
    This needs to be balanced with those Scriptures that warn us not love money, not to be occupied with earthly things, and not to waste time - all of which can be dangers of excessive bargain hunting.
    One thing which we, as booksellers, feel IS unethical is when customers use a bookshop's time/stock to ask all about/look at books, then, having decided what they want, buy elsewhere at slightly cheaper prices on-line. That's almost a form of stealing, isn't it?
    -Stephen & Bets

  2. Stephen and Bets - the last point I think is happening far more these days. My colleague wanted to buy some runners, so he went into a store and tried on a range until he found what he was looking for (taking up someone’s time), then walked out the store and ordered online from the UK where he bought them much cheaper. He did admit he felt guilty about doing this, but he wasn’t going to pay the huge prices and this is the dilemma.

    In reference to your first point, what I save on items I buy from overseas is not given to the poor or needy it is kept (saved) for that rainy day (or to purchase items down the track) – I don’t think this is wrong as having savings is important – or my children gain further assistances from us (they always think they are needy). Like most people spending wisely is important but I am not obsessed with it, just careful.

    I also buy secondhand and it does save things being thrown away which to me is very wasteful.

  3. I too have noticed local bookstores closing down, but when books are so much cheaper bought online the choice is already made, in my opinion. Recently I bought my daughter the whole "Tomorrow when the war began" series from UK Book Depository. The individual books were, on average, at least half the price of those in the Australian book shops or even those on Australian online bookstores. They also were shipped for free! AND, I couldn't even find the whole set in Australia, which is why I ended up looking overseas. I don't know what the answer is for local booksellers - perhaps the government needs to reduce import taxes or give Australian bookstores some kind of tax cut? Or perhaps local booksellers need to get in on the online shopping phenomenon.

  4. This is an interesting subject, Jo, and one I have given several days thought to before writing a comment... There are several things I think are important in this issue.

    Firstly, As Stephen and Bets mentioned above, the Proverbs 31 woman does give us some clues as to what is wise stewardship of our money, possibly including sharing our riches with those in need - although the portion actually doesn't say that she made careful/wise purchases SO THAT she could give MORE money to the poor - it says she stretches her hand to the poor and needy, which could include doing things to help them (or giving them things they need rather than money). :)
    That aside, it is certainly evident that everything she does is wise stewardship which all works towards doing her husband "good and not evil all the days of her life" (v12), and taking care of her household (v27). I don't think there are any specific passages of Scripture that tell us exactly how we should spend our money, except that we should take care of our loved ones, take care of the poor and needy (although again, this can be done through actions rather than finances, depending on the situation), and being wise... There are definitely Scriptures that support not burying our money to save it so no one steals it - so we can safely say that hoarding is not a good idea, and making good investments is a much better idea. And there are Scriptures to suggest that we shouldn't be constantly loving the things in this world. Apart from that, I believe it really is up to the individual how they spend their money according to what they believe the Lord would have them do - and they are answerable to no-one but God for those decisions. :)

    Regarding books - I think it is sad that bookshops are being squeezed out, but like it is for most people, life seems to be expensive (do the bills ever stop????) and I guess often we make a choice to buy online because that way we can save money for other needs.


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