Thursday, August 10, 2006

today : I encounter some insane people

A couple of weeks ago I decided to clear some space. About a thousand books have been sitting on my groaning shelves doing nothing for several years. I looked at my advancing age and realised that I would never read most of them again. At the same time I became aware of someone who had been selling books on Amazon, using their marketplace scheme. The two ideas went perfectly together. So I listed my books, sat back and waited for them to sell.

And to my surprise: they did.

However, in emailing people who are buying books from me I have discovered that lots of them are insane. One guy bought a copy of And the Don Flows Out to The Sea by Mikail Sholokov, and sent me an email detailing a list of interminable Russian novels that I should read, as well as stating that he already had several copies but was buying mine in case he wanted to give it as a gift. Beware. If you know this man do not tell him when your birthday is. In fact become a pagan and cancel Christmas. If you don't you will receive a rather tired mid-1970s Penguin Classics edition of an interminable Russian novel closely followed by promptings of an Oprah's book club style discussion of said novel, which means you might actually have to read it, rather than discreetly give it away to charity or use it to prop up a wobbly table.

Another of my customers bought a copy of Perfume: The Story of a Murderer. Upon receipt she sent me a very nice and chatty email which stated that she had just got out of the bath and had been reading my book therein, followed by a promise that she would update me on her progress. Is that not too much information to pass on to a total stranger? The fact that you have just got out of the bath and was reading a copy of Patrick Susskind's superb novel of murder and degradation therein? I gave her the benefit of the doubt. Email can be such a chatty and intimate medium that sometimes you forget who you are talking to. Secretly, though, I await her updates with no small interest.

Thirdly there was the person who gave me feedback on Amazon's site. You can have anything from one to five stars for customer service. A few of my customers have left very nice comments and I was sailing along with a 100% rating. Whether this affects sales, I can't say. But it's nice nontheless.

Last Saturday evening I received an order for An Introduction to Postmodernism. I'd actually been 'clever' with this book. I noticed that although there were one or two copies cheaper than mine, they were supplied from the USA, which would take weeks to arrive . So I didn't undercut the lowest price but pitched the book at what I thought it was worth. I'd read it once and it was in brand new condition. Nonetheless I offered it at about 40%of list price.

I parcelled up the book and posted it on Monday morning. The key to marketplace selling is that you can provide the same service as Amazon itself, but can often be cheaper. Second class parcel post means that, like Amazon you can make a little profit on the postage costs and the book arrives an acceptably quick two days after you post it. And sure enough, it did. Yet by Wednesday lunchtime the customer had posted a comment on my seller's feedback page absolutely slating me. She complained that the book was late, she estimated the price of second class post and accused me of ripping her off, in one fell swoop destroying my 100% customer satisfaction record. It seemed that despite the regular Amazon experience, as enjoyed by millions of people where you pay a slight premium for not actually having to visit a bookshop, pay for parking, search for you book, order it because it's not on the shelves, buy an overpriced latte and an even more overpriced biscuit, and then drive home again with petrol at £5 a gallon, she wanted to order the book at half it's list price on Saturday evening and then have it hand delivered to her on a silver salver by a tall dark chiselled man in one of those Chippendale non-shirts with only a bow tie, cuffs and rippling tanned torso, along with a Bucks Fizz breakfast on Sunday, or at the very least Monday morning.

I was obviously upset because I had followed every seller's rule to the letter. Why was this person complaining and being so nasty? Then it struck me. Here was a a person who was clearly a stupid f*cking moron. Someone who seemed to believe that what she was dealing with was a personal giveaway service, that exists to provide her with items on a whim, who has no idea that Amazon, and not the seller sets the postage fee and that even the most anticapitalist person who sells you something, kind of wants to make a few pence on the deal in order to pay their bills and keep themself alive by eating and having a place to live etc. Here was a person who was so dumb that reading the information that's emblazoned all over the website she ordered from that says: 'Items are usually dispatched within 1-2 working days' is beyond them. In fact, here is a person who thinks that the word dispatched means the same as the word delivered.

All I can say to her is good luck understanding page 1 of An Introduction to Postmodernism.

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