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Sunday Survey: Budgeting Book Purchases

Intro: What is the ‘Sunday Survey’?

The Sunday Survey is a book discussion that I conducted from 2009 to early 2012 when I was still working at an import bookstore in my hometown, Jakarta. It took place on Sunday – in the afternoon, at the beginning, which is why it used to bear the name Sunday Afternoon Survey – and basically it was me, on my former bookstore’s Twitter (that I managed myself), asking the followers random book-related (or not-so-related) questions. Like: “What’s your favorite book?” and “What do you think of book translations?” It grew into a regular thing and, with the exception of the Sundays I had to go out of town or got hold up by a prior engagement, it was always there.

Now that I’m not working for the bookstore anymore, I moved the Sunday Survey to my personal Twitter account: GeekInc18. So, whenever I can – hopefully regularly – I will have a Sunday Survey with book-related (or not-so-related) questions. The result of the discussion will also be posted up here on Bookerie – who knows maybe it’ll be helpful?

SUNDAY SURVEY, 1 APRIL 2012How Do You Budget Your Book Purchases?

Let me tell you one bitter reality about books, especially imported ones, here in Indonesia: they are super expensive. You have no idea how many complaints I got, while I was working in the bookstore, about the price of our books. I don’t blame people for complaining. Books sold in import bookstores are pricey. Some bookstores are cheaper than others, but the one I was working for had a complete range, so many people turn to us for books they can’t find in other places. And sometimes, they have to pay so much more than the original cover price of the book.

In the defense of the retailers, I will say this: the price the bookstores put are tied to tax, import duty and cost of goods sold (COGS). Shipment method also influences the price of a book, whether it is shipped by sea, by air, via official shipment, or via unofficial shipment (which, in Indonesia, means dealing with bureaucracy and the bureaucrats). So, please don’t take offense at the retailers. They simply need to make profit. Rest assured, my former bookstore still tries its best to get a competitive price.

Having said that, even after trying their best, some books are still expensive. On display on these import bookstores, hardcovers can become $5 more expensive than the original cover price. Paperbacks are often $3-$4 more expensive than the cover price. It can be quite a stretch, especially for young people still financially dependent on their parents or college students on a limited budget, to buy these books.

When I worked in the bookstore, I had an employee discount. This helped me a little bit in lessening the burden of expense. Even so, it’s quite easy for me – a major book lover – to spend too much, too quickly, when I’m in the bookstore. There was an in-joke that people often told me: “Why don’t you ask your salary to be paid in books?” To be honest, this was not off the mark at all. Whatever money I made from working there, it all goes back to the company via my book purchases.

Now I’m working in a different place, outside the book industry. My current salary doesn’t pay as much – this is no secret. Books are not my only interests so I still need money, too, for movies, music, food, traveling, etc. And there’s no more employee discount to help me! Needless to say, my book purchase budget needs to be reduced. For example, I used to spend about $200 on books per month. Now, I can only spend $85. Talk about MISERY.

Up until now, I haven’t quite worked out a way to budget properly. My only plan right now is to just hang in there and not succumb to the temptation. But I did find a few alternatives to this problem. They may not be ideal, but this is how I’m doing it right now.

1. Pick books over food. Don’t starve but cut loose on unnecessary food items, improve nutrition and save more money for books.

In my previous employment, I often worked late in the office. I stayed up until well beyond dinnertime so, in order to sustain myself, I have to buy food at the mall where I worked or indulged in a few snacks (mostly at Starbucks). Mall food is expensive. Snacks can be unhealthy. Starbucks drinks are undoubtedly fattening and probably bad for your heart/liver/stomach. So, working in a bookstore might not be the best option for my health.

Now, though, I can cut down on my expenses for these unnecessary F&B items. I used to drink Starbucks 30 times out of 30/31 days in a month. Now? I only drink 1 Starbucks coffee drink per week. Money? Goes to my book budget. I still buy snacks, like crisps and cookies, but since my new office is not near a mall, I only buy them once a week and stretch the supply for 7 days. One packet of crisps is acceptable, I think, when you’re working on a magazine deadline. But it used to be two packets of crisps for one extra purchase order. Quite an improvement. Money? Goes again into the book budget.

2. Switch to e-books if you can, if you have e-reader, if you don’t mind e-books.

Confession: e-books still make me feel uncomfortable. Despite the fact that it saves paper and therefore helps the environment, and not to mention a lot cheaper, I’m a conventional reader who likes paper to PDF. So it took me the longest time to get used to of reading e-books. But budget concerns have now forced me to accelerate the process of adapting myself to e-books. The only bad news is that not all e-books are available in my region so I have to work around the restrictions a lot. I try not to download illegally but one or two times when I can’t find the title I desperately want to read anywhere through the official channels, I ask for a little help from my pirate friends. In the last 3 months, since January, my e-book collection has grown.

3. Buy books online, if you’re desperate for print, but be mindful of the shipping cost.

I will admit that Amazon.com gives better prices than local bookstores (especially my former place of employment) but once again: please be careful with shipping costs. They can murder your wallet as soon as overpriced hardcovers in local bookstores can. And buying online means you also have to put up with possible problems like unknown damages, the custom office (who may or may not charge you extra import duty for no apparent reason) and lost deliveries. However, if you’re tough enough to deal with them, buying online is always an alternative. Book Depository in the UK is currently the most reliable online store, as it has free worldwide shipping, and their cover prices are competitive. I recently bought The Hound of Baskervilles and A Sign Of Four (Sherlock TV tie-in edition) through Amazon UK and they helped my wallet a bit.

4. Write, instead of read.

This method is highly personal but it works for me. One of my hobbies is writing and I write anything and everything. (Hint: this blog.) Sometimes, when I get frustrated from running out of money and not being able to buy books, I write my own stories instead of reading them. They may never get published but I’m currently writing two novels. I don’t care if no one reads them right now, just so I have something to write about. And when I suffer from writer’s block, I just switch to one of my blogs (I have three) and write about something. Anything. The process of thinking up my own words is equally entertaining as absorbing other people’s words that have already been printed and published.

(You can substitute “writing” with whatever activity you like, though. It just so happens my other hobby is watching movies. If I don’t have money for books, I buy a movie ticket and watch something on the cinema. Movie tickets are less expensive than books. Basically, this point is about switching to your other hobby to distract you from pining over some expensive books.)

5. Read fanfiction. (If you don’t know what fanfiction is, read up on it here.)

Luckily for me, I’m an equal opportunity reader. I’ve been in countless fandoms since I knew the Internet in 1998 and I know where to get good stories – the stories about my favorite fictional characters from books, manga, comics, TV shows, movies or bands (yeah, I went there) written by fans for fellow fans. I know a lot of people who are NOT in fandoms are iffy with fanfiction. But I find it effective to distract myself from expensive books when I can read 20,000- to 80,000-word fanfics on a daily basis. And I’ve been around in fandom long enough to say that some fanfiction authors write a lot better than published authors so, in some cases (though very few), the quality of my reading doesn’t diminish.

Again, these are no foolproof ways to save money over books. These are what work for me in the past month. I’m still unable to actually save more than a few extra dollars to buy books, but I’m not in a bad place when it comes to reading. We all wish that books could be cheaper but, alas, we can’t always have what we want. If you have any tips on how to budget book purchases, do let me know.

Survey Results

My friends on Twitter participated on this discussion and here are their Tweets.

@SmurfGG There’s no budget. I let loose on books first; whatever is left will be budgeted for meals, housing etc. XD

This is crazy but, as she confessed, it’s “TRUE STORY”. And I believe her. Were it up to me, I’d also plan my life around books.

@SmurfGG I need to add though, that I’m pretty conservative in my choice of books, so even though I ‘splurge’ my ignorance limits me ;)

And by ‘conservative’ she means 3 books… in a day. Reasonable. I think. ;)

@Astrapios being a financially poor student, I always try to limit my purchases to 1/week. Alas, when I have money to buy more, I failed.

@Astrapios parents give me lunch money every school day, when I have some books that I want I don’t eat lunch for a week :| diet with result

Proof of Point No. 1. But again, let’s not starve ourselves.

@aksamala #Sunday Survey No budget, I usually bought 3 cps/month and company discount obviously very helpful. *grin*

The company discount that I’m now missing out, she still has it. 3 books per month is highly reasonable, though. Good plan!

@angelikurniawan I always set certain amount to be spent on books but eventually it’ll always be over budget and i’ll end up broke again.

This happens to me, too, most of the time. No matter how strong my resolve is, in the end if a book calls out to me, I’ll still buy! Perhaps I am cursed?

@puspitangel Actually there’s a budget. But I just can’t stand it when the new release has come. So I let the money loose like the water. :|

Read my previous comment. Here is where I usually start sobbing while clutching my empty wallet.

@9perris no budget, but always try to be quite sure to buy the books..and when the books quite worth the buy, usually I’ll buy :)

Now this is interesting because it’s quite rare for me to be sure of the books I want to read. I’m a “browser”, meaning that I like going to the bookstore, browse for books, and pick things that interest me after reading the blurbs, back covers, etc. I have a friend who strictly only buys from authors she likes so in a way, she controls her budget more like 9perris does. Bravo!

Also, I asked 9perris how she can be sure of the books she reads. She said she’d sometimes buy books she has already read. And when I asked her again, “If you haven’t bought the books, how do you know they’re good?” Her answer is ingenious:

@9perris at my school’s library LOL, or sometimes from book rent (like the ‘little prince’ by Antoine de saint-exupery) :D

LIBRARIES, PEOPLE. THEY EXIST. USE THEM. :)

9 times out of 10, though, my friend D describes it best:

@dtorini There’s a monthly budget for books that I almost always exceed. This accurately describe me. #SundaySurvey

Appropriate JPG is appropriate.

That’s it for this week’s Sunday Survey. Stay tuned again for next week’s Survey.

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This entry was posted on April 1, 2012 by in bookstores, e-books, sunday survey on twitter, tips and tagged , , .
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