Monday, 30 March 2020

Second hand books in a time of coronavirus

I'm known for spending more money than I really should on second hand books, most of which I buy online from large overseas bookbarns.

While I'm happy to buy locally, many Australian second hand dealers  don't have the stock, and if they do are hamstrung by AustraliaPost wanting the better part of ten bucks to post a second hand copy of Wuthering Heights, which probably only cost around five bucks to start with.

While I usually use AbeBooks, the bookshop consolidator, to search for books,  most of the books I buy come from either World Of Books, Kennys, or

Some do come from other resellers, such as reuseabook, who don't have their own storefront and process their sales via Abe Books.

Well the disruption of international air traffic has played havoc with ordering books from overseas. Orders quite often come a circuitous way posted via Sweden or some other country whose postal service charges low fees to send books, often on the basis of  'it goes when there's space for it' when an international mail container isn't quite full.

So, sometimes a second hand book might take a few days to get to Australia, or it might take a month.

Well, for the moment the world's changed. There's not a lot of spare airmail capacity, and even regular services are impacted (eg I'm a dual UK/Australian citizen, which means I have two passports. My UK passport came due for renewal a couple of weeks ago. You used to have to send your renewal paperwork and old passport to the High Commission in Canberra, but these days you have to send it direct to the UK Passport Agency in Liverpool.
Using International standard tracked airmail it took two weeks to get there - when J went through the same exercise last year it only took two week from start to finish for them to renew her passport, including send it there and the Passport Agency sending back the new one.)

Not surprisingly, items from overseas sent low priority are taking forever to arrive. In fact World of Books have shut their Australian site - typing into the browser search bar confusingly redirects to their UK rare books site. Their Australian site is still there - replace en-gb with en-au in the full site url, and hit return - this should take you to the Australian website ( where they advise that their Australian business is suspended.

Kennys have sent all their staff home and are not processing orders. They do say the'll process any outstanding orders when things are back to normal. (Just to add to the confusion around deliveries, I've just received a book ordered from them 10 days ago and sent via normal post - as always your mileage may vary)

Thriftbooks, the big US second hand reseller still claims to be posting orders to Australia, but Australia Post is suggesting that mail to and from the States may be delayed by up to four weeks. Given that often Thriftbooks use a logistics company to ship by the lowest cost route, I'd guess that any order would take six to eight weeks.

A lot of companies seem to have told AbeBooks they can't ship to Australia at the moment, so a search for something - Wuthering Heights is a good example, there's a zillion second hand Penguin editions out there - will bring up a lot of smaller second hand resellers, some of whom might not have fully realised the dire state of international mail.

Incidentally BookDepository often turns up in AbeBooks searches showing the price for the book bought new through them (the fact that AbeBooks and BookDepositiry are both owned by Amazon may have something to do with this).

BookDepository of course have both an Australian and a UK warehouse, and unless you read the order confirmation carefully, you're never quite sure where an item will ship from. Currently, items shipped from the Australian warehouse are taking, at most, a day or two longer (I live in country Victoria and their warehouse is in Melbourne, so you may find that, if you live in another state, especially one that's imposed extra quarantine checks, that things take noticeably longer).

Items shipped from the UK are taking longer, much longer - Bookdepository are currently suggesting items will take an additional ten to fifteen days - which in reality probably means the best part of a month.

Suddenly e-books seem a very attractive alternative ...

[update 06/04/2020]

Coincidentally, the ABC has published a report on what's happening with the mail due to Covid-19. Find it at

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