As Book Depository closes down, which is the best online bookseller?

UK-based global book-selling site Book Depository is closing down after almost 20 years. And while no official reason has been given, it’s safe to assume it’s related to parent company Amazon’s recent push of downsizing and “role eliminations”. After all, why operate two massive international bookstores?

The imminent closure, set for April 26, has prompted an outpouring of disappointment across the world. But in Australia, will lovers of physical books be worse off?

Book Depository made a big splash when it arrived in Australia in 2016, but its parent Amazon has eclipsed it for price and convenience.Credit: Istock

Book Depository has long had the selling point of free worldwide delivery. This is a much bigger deal in certain countries that aren’t as well serviced as we are, where waiting a week or two for a delivery is preferable to paying overseas shipping.

But even in Australia, blanket free shipping keeps things uncomplicated.

By contrast, if you’re buying from Amazon you tend to pay around $4 shipping for a single book unless you’re an Amazon Prime member, in which case it’s free.

If you spend more than $39 in a single order it’s free regardless. The only time you’ll come unstuck is if you’re buying books from Amazon’s website that are not sold or fulfilled by Amazon, and are overseas, but that’s fairly unusual given Amazon’s range.

At Booktopia, things are a little weirder. Standard shipping is a flat $10, even for multiple books. But you can qualify for free shipping if your order includes one of the 1000 or so “featured” books, which I can only assume are titles the company is trying to get rid of.

Occasionally, there are a few delivery deals cheaper than $10, so you can save on shipping if you’re happy to ease Booktopia’s burden of random old Enid Blytons.

So, all this considered, which online bookseller is cheaper? Let’s look at a few examples.

Lessons in Chemistry.

We’ll start with an easy one that’s featured prominently on the sites: Bonnie Garmus’ celebrated novel Lessons in Chemistry. The paperback has an RRP of $23.

Book Depository: $19.41
Amazon: $12
Booktopia: $13.50

This book is emblematic of a few recurring factors we’ll see. Book Depository isn’t able to offer as steep a discount as its rivals because the shipping is in the price, but it still comes out ahead of Booktopia when you take the extra $10 shipping costs into account.

Also, if you’re just buying this one book, an Amazon Prime subscriber gets an excellent deal while a non-subscriber still gets an ok one. And finally, all three adjust prices constantly in response to what other sellers are doing, which could mean fewer savings overall once Book Depository is out of the picture.


How about a more expensive book, like the hardcover of Prince Harry’s recent biography? It has an RRP of $60.

Book Depository: $41.78
Amazon: $35
Booktopia: $36.95

Again Amazon is cheaper overall, and likely delivers faster, making it an obvious choice for Australian buyers.

It’s clear that Amazon specifically targets new biographies, releases by big-name authors or books that are otherwise in the public mind because you’ll usually find them at almost half the RRP while similar books from a few years ago are less discounted.


To get a bit more niche, let’s look at the English language version of Junji Ito’s Uzumaki manga collection. The hardcover has an RRP of $41.

Book Depository: $46.85
Amazon: $24.50
Booktopia: $30.80

In this case, Book Depository is actually over the RRP, probably to account for shipping the heavy tome to far-off lands. Amazon’s size and its delivery infrastructure let it be very competitive with these kinds of products, and I’ve often seen art books, coffee table books and other heavy hardcovers for $30 less than at Book Depository. Booktopia is generally close to Amazon, not counting the $10 shipping.

It’s when we get to classics that we see a bit of an advantage in Book Depository’s favour. The Sirens of Titan, Wings of the Dove and Dracula are all a bit cheaper than Amazon, so if you were getting a bulk of paperbacks and didn’t mind waiting a few weeks you could save a bit. Of course Amazon will push e-book versions of classic titles, which often cost just cents or are free.

It’s impossible to say which site has the better range, especially since it will depend largely on your tastes. I searched each site for the last 10 books I’ve read, which are mostly literary fiction, and found Amazon and Book Depository had all of them. Booktopia was missing two. Amazon was the cheapest in seven of the searches.

All things considered, the landscape is very different in Australia now than it was five years ago, specifically because Amazon has made its service very hard to beat. If you’re buying more than one book, you’re likely paying more than $39, meaning shipping for the whole order is free. Even if you’re buying books from overseas, orders fulfilled by foreign arms of Amazon get free shipping if they’re over $49. If you don’t meet that threshold, the $4 shipping generally still makes for a better deal than Booktopia.

The main thing we’re losing with Book Depository is the competition, even if it is also owned by Amazon. In the short term, that will mean no alternative in those few cases where the UK-based service worked out cheaper. In the longer term, it may mean Amazon has less incentive to keep its prices and shipping low to appear better in comparison.

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