Cheap books

March 30, 2009

So, although the really frugal thing to do is go to the library, sometimes I want to actually own a book. (Then I can drop it in the bath or scribble on it with a clean conscience).


  1. second hand (good for classics, foreign language grammars and dictionaries);
  2. wait for sales at bookshops;
  3. buy online.

I am reluctant to buy online, because you miss the opportunity to stumble on goodies, and I prefer to wander around Unity, or Parsons, or Dymocks, or even Borders. But sometimes you need something they don’t carry, or the discount is too substantial to ignore.

This is particularly true for technical books.

Usually I just check Fishpond or Amazon, but delivery charges are a killer, so I try and pool with a friend, or arrange for travelling friends to bring orders back from a US address.

A few weeks ago I discovered the Book Depository, which has some very good prices. It also has free delivery!

The Book Depository also has given me an ethical dilemma. I ordered a book. They reversed the charges, and I assumed it was out of stock. But then the book arrived anyway! Owing to exchange rate movements, I actually made a couple of bucks too. I have written to them, telling them of the problem, and asking them to charge me again, but haven’t heard back. In the meanwhile, I’m keeping the book…

I wouldn’t count on any freebies, but I have a couple of colleagues who order from the Book Depository regularly and rate them.

Where do you get your books?


  1. The library, but I have got hold of some great out-of-print things from Trademe at excellent prices. There are some great 2nd hand bookshops down here but I get a bit overwhelmed just browsing. For new books the Uni Bookstore heere in Dunedin is superb.

    For online buys I go for https://www.goodbooksnz.co.nz/. Free delivery, excellent prices and all profits to a good cause

  2. – Borders when they have those discount vouchers through email. I don’t think I’ve ever bought anything there full price. You have to work hard to find what you want at times.

    – The Nile for cheaper online prices. I suspect they’re a front end to somebody’s Amazon.co(m|.uk) habit but they’re generally cheaper than Borders and have better stock.

    – Unity when I feel like sticking it to the corporates (not very frequently, judging by my other choices)

  3. damm you for feeding my book addiction

    I’ve only just run out of the books i brought at the DCM bookfair in September. so it’s time for some shopping, frugally of course

  4. TradeMe – two out of print books recently.

    Fishpond and Nile have been ok in the past.

    Borders – but it is out of the way for me, so only when I have a voucher and REALLY want something.

    Amazon – not any more with exchange rates and delivery costs!

    And being a librarian I patronise the library a lot, but I do like to own.

  5. Well I admire your honesty – and we obviously made a mistake somewhere along the line with the order!

    So please keep the book with our compliments…

    I’d be quite keen to check out what did happen though so if you could mail me your order number / the e-mail address you ordered on then that would be great.

    All the best

    MD The Book Depository

  6. the book depository are awesome and **everyone** should support them.

    i tried to buy a 2nd hand book from the US the other week, $US3. postage is a flat fee $US12!!!1!!

  7. Four words: the city mission bookfair. There may be something wrong with me, but I really do struggle to find books that will interest me in regular bookshops – there’s just too little to choose from. Also, because of my research interests the new books I’m after tend to sometimes be less readily available in NZ, so it makes sense to let the number build up and make one or two big orders a year from Amazon. At that point adding the odd title you could get locally is actually cheaper because the shipping costs aren’t too onerous.

    Will check out this book depository thing.

  8. For not easily available books, I use https://www.goodbooksnz.co.nz/

    Thoroughly recommended.

  9. Kieron: I have emailed you directly – feel free to post followup here if message does not arrive.

  10. abebooks.com

    It’s an alliance of second-hand booksellers from around the world.

    Brilliant for the really hard-to-find and out-of-print books. I’ve found books there that Amazon et al throw their hands up in ‘sorry, out-of-print’ horror.

  11. Based on this recommendation, I placed an order with Book Depository. The prices were reasonable, and the free postage was the clincher. All the books said they would usually be dispatched within 24-48 hours.
    It is now 17 days later, and I have received some of them (they were all posted individually for some reason). However, some of them are still “in processing” (although I was billed on the day I made the order). I have sent emails (both via their site and externally, and have not heard back at all from them. So I am currently out of pocket, with no idea whether the remaining books will arrive, and there is no phone number to contact them on their web site.
    After googling, I see that this is a common problem – lack of response from them and orders being filled very late or not at all.
    Shame – I guess it was too good to be true…

  12. That’s very disappointing. Keep us posted.

  13. indeed. that’s a bad sign.

    looks like the margins might not be in there after all.

  14. Update – I googled some more, and found that the managing director of The Book Depository has helped sort out orders for people. So I found his direct email address, and told him the story. I had 3 emails back from him almost immediately, that he was looking into it, and was sorting it out for me – he was very apologetic. So, I haven’t received the books yet, but I am hopeful that I will.
    But the complete lack of customer support makes me wonder whether I will continue to order from them – relying on help from the MD each time seems a bit dodgy…

  15. I’m a huge fan of the Book Depository (i’ve ordered a few books from them and never had any of the problems above) but they are not always the cheapest. And to prove it I’ve set up a price comparison web site for books: http://www.bookish.co.nz

    Also they don’t have all books. And not books from some for the smaller NZ publishers.

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