I'm a lucky man. I work in publishing, so I get a lot of free books. ReadySteadyBook has been going for a long time (seven or more years), so I get sent a lot of free books. But I'm also a greedy man, so I still buy an awful lot of books too...

In July of last year, I started a new job at Quercus Books, but for the decade before that I'd worked for both Amazon and The Book Depository. As you can imagine, that meant that over those years I hardly ever bought a book from a 'bricks and mortar' bookshop.

As part of my initial training at Amazon, I spent some time packing books in their warehouse along with a bevvy of other new recruits. Before we put a book in a package, we were told to examine it properly. If it wasn't mint, then we should discard it, and pack another copy. Over the past decade of ordering from Amazon (and later The Book Depository) it struck me that this lesson must have been well-learned by all those who followed me through the doors of the distribution centre: whenever a book came, it was in perfect condition.

I'm not sure what has changed, but my recent online book orders have all arrived in, well, not mint condition. It is, I suppose, quite difficult to define damaged. Perhaps a creased back cover, a bashed spine, and/or a scratched/dirty front cover isn't really damaged. But it is damaged to me! None of the books has been damaged enough for me to want to bother with the faff of returning them, but enough damage has been done to them – and to my confidence in online shopping – that my dollar votes have recently been cast at the London Review Bookshop where, if I'm lucky, I can often find what I'm looking for shrink-wrapped!

Has anyone else noticed this? Or have I just been a particularly unlucky man several times in a row!?

Readers Comments

  1. Interesting point, Mark. I've had two books recently with minor flaws - not serious enough to warrant returning the items, but enough to rankle slightly. In a shop I'd have rejected both and looked for perfect copies; that said, I left a shop the other day without buying the book I wanted because thay had only a single copy in a terrible state.

  2. It strikes me Mark that you're the type of person who leaves the plastic covers on their new sofa!!


  3. It is a gift from providence, Mark, to persuade you to shop in the lovely LRB shop instead!

    I haven't shopped at Amazon for a few years now, but when I did, my worst experience was an Everyman's Library trilogy of Highsmith's Ripley novels coming with a hole in the front cover, as though it had been skewered by a bradawl. Otherwise, books were indeed usually in mint condition (though occasionally the wrong cover would be sent, as when I ordered a Camus in Penguin Modern Classics and they sent the old PMC edition instead of the new one...).

  4. I’ve noticed exactly the same thing! Amazon used to be great at delivering books in perfect condition, but at least three of my recent orders have had slight damage. As with you, it didn’t seem enough to justify returning them, but it did annoy me.

  5. I had a book arrive with the spine broken badly, so much that the cover bumped up. I try to keep my books looking new as much as possible so this is the only book I'm not worried about ruining.

  6. A year or so ago I often received slightly damaged books from Amazon but now they have improved.

  7. You've been unlucky, I think. Books coming to me all the way from the Book Depository UK to the Antipodes have all arrived in first-class condition.
    Lisa Hill, ANZ LitLovers, Melbourne Australia

  8. Yup, I've found the same - last book I got from them had a completely bent back cover, which was a real pain as it was a present for someone and I had no time to return it. Seems like a strange time for policy change, if it is one, given the number of people who shopped for christmas with them. I guess maybe they've decided people just wanted fast turnaround even where stock was low? Hopefully things will improve now the peak has passed... it won't do them any good in the long run if it is a more permanent change.

  9. Receiving books with creases/scratches is very annoying. I find hardcovers tend to survive better than paperbacks (which the rotten postie shoves into your letterbox because it 'nearly' fits). I've never ordered from Amazon, but I've just ordered from Book Depository 9 out of 15 have arrived - 7 are great and 2 are a bit creased and scuffed :(

  10. Mark, You stated, "If it wasn't mint, then we should discard it, and pack another copy." - Sounds like they are re-evaluating the ones you discarded and are now shipping them out. This would be fine if they had the listing say, "SECONDS" (in bold caps) and offered a bit of a discount. Personally I (and I assume many others) would prefer $5 off as opposed to pristine but would be upset if sent a second without the warning or a discount. - Paul -

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