Actually this applies to shopping for anything, but I am talking about books because the Oddball Preacher started the conversation by talking about books.
Any time someone complained about something being unfair, my mom would say, “Life is not a fair.” I added, “It is a circus.” Now with the internet we have the opportunity to watch 5,000 rings instead of the traditional three. Does this mean more enjoyment? Maybe, but it usually just means more confusion.
The problem of price and selection being different from city to city and store to store has always existed, but now it is more obvious. We can now compare hundreds of sites, and the aggregate selection is mind numbing, even if you are looking for a specific title. You can spend hours shopping and still not be sure you got the best deal. You have to compare new, used, and electronic options. Plus the best prices I have ever found were at thrift stores and yard sales (only works if you are not looking for a specific title, obviously). Froogle and a hundred other websites have tried to make things easier, but then you have to compare the results of the search tools. And it is not just price and quality you have to compare. Sites differ on shipping, returns, and bulk purchasing options.
So why are there so many options? Let’s start with publishers. These sites are there primarily to serve retailers and provide more (authoritative?) information on each book than can be found on most other sites. I think for most, selling online is a secondary purpose. Internet sales are still a very small part of overall sales volume. With more people becoming more comfortable shopping online that will probably change. Still selling directly to consumers is not part of most publishers’ skill set. They would have to hire new people to advertise the website, and make sure that it stayed competitive. Plus customers would still have to go to multiple publishers’ sites. So retailing is left to the professionals.
When you look at online retailers, there are a few that are serious about what they do. Amazon was one of the first and has been very successful, but there are several others. I am not sure why the biggest and most popular sites are secular (it is a bit counter-intuitive), but that is also true of brick and mortar book stores like Barnes & Noble and even Wal-Mart. There are a few Christian book retailers on-line, but they are not as big or do not have the selection. CBD works by purchasing a few titles in very large quantities at low prices but that means they cannot carry as much variety, but when they do have something they are usually able to sell it cheap. Although larger companies can still beat them. It is all a matter of who can buy the largest quantity and operate with the lowest overhead per book sold.
And then there is the rest. Many of the websites that are out there selling stuff are doing it simply because they can. Selling online is easy. They have loyal visitors who always go to that site, and buy stuff just because they are there. It is kind of like buying stuff from a gas station convenience store, a vending machine, or the kid that comes to your door selling cookies. To be fair there is value in the relationship and buying from someone you know. Food for thought: It would be cheaper for churches to buy a computer and let people read sermons off the internet instead of paying a preacher. You could even afford to give blackberries to everyone and have email automatically sent to any one who did not attend the weekly reading or went to the hospital.
Part of what makes capitalism work is that you are free to charge what ever the market will bare, but that same freedom means that if you do not shop wisely you will probably end up paying more than you have to.
|Your comment about capitalism begs a question: whither ministry as a motive for Christian publishers?|
by Oddball Pastor on Saturday November 5, 2005 @ 7:43 PM
|I am not sure what I was trying to say in the last paragraph. I think my brain crashed and I had to reboot at about that point and so I just quit with a half-idea that did not make much sense. What I was trying to communicate in this post, is that most sellers will try to match the lowest price of which they are aware because that is a critical part of making the sale, but they are not going to sell it for much less than the customer is willing to pay and certainly not below cost because they would soon go out of business and not be able to produce anything.
The exceptions to the not-below-cost rule are overstocked and used/damaged product situations. In these situations it is just good business sense to get whatever you can, rather than to pay storage for stuff you are not going to use. This is one of the biggest reasons you will see large price discrepancies. The other major reason being the difference in overhead expenses.
Basically, I doubt the publisher was intentionally trying to charge more than anyone else. That is not even good business sense. And I do not think Amazon is selling books cheaply as a ministry. They just have much lower overhead, and are much better at online selling. That is their specialty.
This is getting to be a long comment. I will talk about ministry and profit as motives in another post.
by Luke Gedeon on Monday November 7, 2005 @ 10:16 AM