Thursday, February 28, 2013

The High Cost of International Shipping for Books

With the latest postal rate increase, it is a smaller world for online book sellers and book publishers in the United States, a group that includes me. For all practical purposes, our market is now just one country. It is no longer practical to ship books to customers in other countries.

It now costs $24 to send a single book or CD from the United States to Europe. This is four times what it cost in 2000. Sending several books together is not much better. To send three average-sized books in one box costs $48 at current rates. Shipping to the two closest countries, Canada and Mexico, is only slightly less expensive. When you compare the cost of shipping to the usual idea of the value of the merchandise, it is easy to guess that people in the United States won’t be shipping many books, CDs, and DVDs to other countries anymore. ran the numbers and decided that international shipping was no longer an option. This makes sense for its marketplace, which emphasizes used books and CDs. It is a less drastic adjustment at Marketplace, but it perhaps amounts to the same thing. There may not be many international book purchases with shipping charges that start at $15 and are more than the price of the book itself in most cases. At the same time, shipping allowances can still fall so far short of the actual cost of shipping that a seller of a $6 book risks taking a loss on a sale if the buyer is outside the country. Sellers can opt out of international sales, and surely most will choose to do so.

Physical media may no longer make sense in the international marketplace as the labor, energy, and security costs of shipping keep increasing. The book industry especially must make the transition to digital media. The most immediate effect, though, will be a huge loss of revenue for the already struggling US Postal Service. The USPS probably budgeted for a revenue increase from this particular rate increase, but instead, it may just be expanding the hole in its budget.