I’m fed up with buying books online from independent sellers. The problem: damage in transit. Independent book sellers seem to think that the postal system uses a magical system of air tubes that swooshes books to their destination without coming into contact with solid surfaces. I have news for them.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve received mashed or even pierced boxes, with a traumatized and gravely injured book quivering inside. It’s a terrible waste, and completely preventable. The worst (and most common) situation is when a book is packed loose in a box, with some crumpled paper on top. This pretty much guarantees that the corners will get bumped, or, like my last purchase, the spine will actually be broken. I mean literally smashed. [Correction: The worst situation is the bubble envelope. Those book sellers should just be slapped with their mangled book.]
Shall I name names? They really are too numerous to mention, but I’ll mention two big ones. Both Powell’s and Caiman (the latter being more of a liquidator) have been guilty of packing books loose. Powell’s will pay for return shipping, but, as I just found out to my displeasure, Caiman (like all Amazon Marketplace sellers) does not. AbeBooks does have a policy that merchants must pay return shipping on damaged items, but the merchants don’t always know this and can put up quite a fight. They should maybe ask themselves why the book got damaged instead of making their (soon to be ex-)customer pay the penalty for the bad packing job.
Amazon, on the other hand, knows how to ship a book. Their books are gripped firmly by their cardboard wraps, which project beyond the edges of the book to protect all 8 corners. Books sent in boxes are not immobilized but usually jammed in pretty tightly with air bags. I think I’ve only had to return one book (I won’t say out of how many!) to Amazon because of damage. (I’ve had two other books damaged, but they just sent new copies rather than pay for the return shipping. Who can beat that level of customer service?) That’s a pretty remarkable track record compared to independents, who, by my experience, have a greater than 50% damage rate. Keep in mind that I tend to buy heavy books (the bigger they are, the harder they fall) from the US (two postal systems plus Customs get a crack at them); it’s probably not as bad with domestic ordering, but the online used book market in Canada rarely has what I want.
So, I’m done with the independents. Unless I can contact the shipper personally and specify exactly how the book should be packed (as I did with my Complete Greek Tragedies, which arrived in perfect condition), I will take all my business to Amazon. And if there are any independents out there who actually care what condition their books arrive in, please read this post about how to properly pack a book for delivery through the mail. A little bubble wrap will go a long way to keeping your customers.