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Shopping online this Christmas? Buy union!

by Eric Lee

This is the time of year when the mass media are full of helpful ways you can spend more than you ever planned to for your Christmas gifts. And as has been the case for the last several years, many newspapers and magazines will highlight all the wonderful opportunities for parting with your hard-earned money online.

I've already seen a few such articles comparing the choices for online book shopping -- and these will focus on things like discounts, shipping costs, selection available, and so on.

But what none of the mainstream media reports on online shopping mention is which bookshops are unionised -- and which are not.

I know of only three unionised online bookshops, and only one of these in the UK. The three are Powells Books, Stacey's Books and Bookmarks.

For test purposes, I've asked all three bookshops about Ahmed Rashid's best selling book on the Taliban.

Stacey's is a 78-year old independent bookshop in San Francisco whose staff was successfully unionized several years ago. Stacey's has probably the least advanced online ordering system of the three bookshops reviewed, and it outsources its online catalog. Rashid's book is on sale at a discount ($13.46 instead of $14.95), can be shipped within 24 hours, but -- and this amazed me -- they only offer one shipping option to the UK, and that costs $38.50, bringing the total cost of buying the book to £35.64. No thanks.

Powells, located in Portland, Oregon, is probably the largest seller of used books in the United States and its struggle to be unionized was the focus of a lot of attention. Though they sell Rashid's book at the full price of $14.95, they have several shipping options to the UK, the least expensive of which costs only $5.00, making for a total price of £13.68. (Though be prepared to wait 8 - 12 weeks for your books.)

Bookmarks in London was quick to inform me that they too are a fully unionised bookshop. They too have Rashid's book in stock and it costs £7.99, which is the full list price in the UK. But when you try to find out what it would cost to ship the book, there's no way -- unless you're prepared to order the book, giving your credit card details. I actually had to ring up Bookmarks to find out what shipping costs, and was told that it would be 15% of the cover price of the book. The total would therefore come to £9.19 in this case.

Powells has by far the largest selection and its web shop is the most sophisticated and comprehensive of the three. And having the choice of used books can sometimes significantly lower the price. But being based in the US makes it expensive for customers over here. Bookmarks would be the obvious choice for online book shopping in the UK for activists who wanted to buy their books from a union shop, but their website could stand for a professional overhaul.

Oh yes, the non-unionized bookshops are cheaper -- but not always. Tesco gives a 35% discount on the Rashid book, though charging £2.75 for delivery (much more expensive than Bookmarks!), for a total of £7.94. Blackwells sells the same title at no discount, but delivery is free, so you'd pay £7.99. Amazon sells the book at a discount, but its hefty delivery fee brings the price up to £9.14 -- making a trip to the unionized Bookmarks only five pence dearer.

This article appeared in the Scottish Socialist Voice -- "the paper that's NOT owned by millionaires".

This document was last modified: Wednesday, 23-Nov-2022 08:33:37 CET

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