Monday, January 26, 2004

Guide to Book Purchases in the Philippines

It's surprising how much can change in a year. 2004 looks promising, at least for me as a book buyer, from what I've observed in the previous year.


First, I must establish the criteria a bibliophile might want in obtaining a book. I mean some people look for cheap books, others for a specific edition, etc. I'll give a few of book buyer's priorities (at least mine):

Cost: Obviously, the cheaper I can get a book, the more frequently I'll patronize that shop.

Condition: Some people want their books in mint condition, while others would settle for secondhand copies.

Time: Eventually, I'll run into a bookstore where I can't find a book I want. The solution is usually to either special order the book, or to go to a different bookstore. The former is an option if I have the time to wait. Also, one might ask how long one is willing to wait for the cheaper version to come out (or how long I can wait for the bookstore to hold its sale).

Editions: Well, some people favor hardcovers, others paperbacks. Or first editions, or omnibuses, or European covers, etc. Much like the time factor, you must weigh your desire for a specific edition to the price you're willing to pay (or the condition you're willing to settle, or how long you're willing to wait).

Money is a Factor

Booksale is the bookstore to go to if you're having financial problems, hands-down. Of course the trade-off is the condition of the book and its edition (I mean as much as I love Starship Troopers, having the movie cover makes me feel embarassed). Booksale also doesn't have the stability that retail bookstores have. For example, if I see a particular copy of a book in this branch of Booksale, there's no guarantee that another branch will have it. Moreover, some branches have arranged their shelves in genres, while others haven't. Finding a specific book in Booksale could possibly turn into a nightmare. The Internet has helped eased that problem since their website offers a search engine and they can deliver the book to your branch of choice. And with multiple branches of Booksale, delivery won't be much of a problem. But the search engine still has problems, and nothing beats browsing the books on the shelf.

Books for Less is the newcomer in the used-books business and while it has better service than Booksale (free coffee for every purchase, for example), it's second best because the shop specializes in hardcovers. And hardcovers are expensive. You could probably buy three Booksale books with the price of one Books for Less book. But the advantage of patronizing Books for Less is that their books are in a much better condition (although undoubtedly still a used-book), and if you're looking for hardcovers, you're better off at this place.

Goodwill has its own perks, especially since not as many people visit it as say, National Bookstore. Books tend to be slightly cheaper than its sibling (NBS), and there's usually a 20% sale once every two months (and since not many people really buy books there, the book you want will probably still be on shelf by the time the sale hits). But Goodwill has a much smaller selection, and they don't restock as often.

Of course nothing beats the bookstore giant that is National Bookstore/Powerbooks. With branches all over Metro Manila, they're the most common means of obtaining books. Of course once you've seen the selection of one NBS branch, you've seen them all.

Ever since Fully Booked stopped being Page One, their prices have gone down, even almost rivalling the prices of NBS. Their newer stocks have a conversion rate of under P50.00 to a $1.00 and they have a wide selection. A discount card is also available for either P800 or purchases amounting to P15,000 in a year. I'd opt for the former since you save more money that way and if you're going to spend at least P8,000 in a year, you might as well get the card (since 10% of P8,000 is P800).

It's Quality I'm After

A Different Bookstore/Ink & Stone succeeds despite their high prices (P55.00 to a $1.00) because of their sheer variety. Their stocks also come in once every two weeks, which means you can probably get your hands on the latest book in a week or so, compared to NBS's once-every-month restocks. Of course the biggest value I get from this bookstore is that if it's not on shelf, I can place special orders. These orders take around a month (in contrast to NBS's two months) but the downside is that you have to make a full downpayment.

Fully Booked deserves second place because they really do have a wide variety of books, and a number of them are European editions (a rarity here in the Philippines, although NBS has gotten a number of European books, like the Tolkien Middle-Earth histories). Unfortunately, their older stock still suffers from the steep prices of the franchise it used to own, and I did try to do book orders from them but they haven't gotten back to me yet (and this was four months ago). Still, as far as on-shelf purchases go, it's way better than the selection at NBS or Goodwill.

Aeon Books is a quaint little shop at Katipunan. It has a unique selection, and the prices of its books is identical with A Different Bookstore. I've marked it lower since as of now, its selection isn't as wide as say, Fully Booked, and they don't have a tight schedule (i.e. predictable) when it comes to restocks. You can also do special orders which will come in with their new stocks. A big plus though is that their books aren't shrinkwrapped, which means you can actually browse books here without too much of a hassle. A David in a country full of Goliaths, it's worth patronizing and see how it'll develop this year.

Amazon wins hands-down if it's variety you want, but obviously, it can be expensive, especially when you're shipping it from the US. Alternatives might include ordering from Amazon Japan, especially since they now have an English service. Shipping is still expensive, although much cheaper than its US counterpart. Delivery can also take somewhere under a week to a month, depending on how much you're willing to spend.

I Can Wait

The annual bookfair is held on September and you can expect bookstores like NBS and Goodwill to mark off their regular items with a 20% discount.

ADB/Ink & Stone always has a Christmas sale (to get rid of inventory) and sproradic sales during throughout the year.

As mentioned earlier, Goodwill holds one every two months at least, while Booksale also has an annual sale.

Special orders from National Bookstore doesn't really pay off, since the exchange rate you're getting it is usually the same as A Different Bookstore rather than their under-a-dollar conversion rate, not to mention that it takes two months at least for the book to arrive.


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