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Wednesday, May 23, 2007


I love books. No, I mean I do not just like books — I love them. I almost never loan my books out; not just because they contain scribblings in the margins (which I consider either intellectual property or private and personal), but because I would throw a fit if even one page comes back dog-earred. I never open my reference books wide enough for the cracking sound to occur. Once, a classmate borrowed a hardcover tome, The Invention of the Human, by Harold Bloom, split it open 180 degrees — hundreds of times — to xerox it. I almost had a cardiac infarction. That was the last time I ever lent a book to anyone. When there are public libraries available, I can't see any reason why anyone has to borrow a book from another private individual.

So, yes, I am very fussy with my books.

Bearing in mind that I am bitching over a paperback, here we go:

Borders, Singapore, carries two editions of V. S. Naipaul's A House for Mr Biswas in paperback: Picador, an imprint of Pan Macmillan, and Vintage, an imprint of Random House.

Compared to Vintage (576 pages), the materials employed by Picador (640 pages) are of a lower quality: the paper stock is thicker (ironically, ink or highlighting fluid soaks through to the other side more readily); the surface of the paper is coarser; the color of the paper a yellowish-brown. All these result in a book that is almost two times thicker, more difficult to read (black text against yellowish-brown possesses less contrast than black text against white), and a pain to annotate (I don't highlight, preferring to mark up, circle, and cross).

The pride that Vintage takes in its books — even with its paperbacks — is appreciable: the matt cover jacket is actually laminated and water resistant — a valued feature for the café scene or those who travel everywhere with a book (or books) in hand; the paper stock is thin but ink and highlighter fluid do not readily soak through; the finish of the paper is so smooth as to be semi-glossy; and the paper a high contrast white against black solid text.

With the obviously higher quality of the Vintage paperback, one would not complain if it is justifiably priced higher. But upon comparing the publisher's listed retail price and consulting the currency exchange rates,

       US$15.96 = S$24.34

       £7.99 = S$24.06

the price of both books should be identical within a dollar (Well, okay. 28 cents). But this is what Borders, Singapore, is charging:

       Vintage S$29.90

       Picador S$23.80

Why is Borders, Singapore, changing 22 percent more for the Vintage edition?

Why does Borders, Singapore, employ the pricing formula of (2 x US listed retail price) when the foreign currency exchange rate is S$1.525 to US$1?

The cost of shipping it from US to Singapore does not constitute a valid reason. Books are also shipped and trucked across USA, and yet prices remain relatively similar throughout the continent.

To add insult to injury, is selling the Vintage edition at US$10.85 or S$16.55. Now I know why Inferno Ed prefers to compile a catalog of orders before having them shipped together from Nevada. Even with shipping, it often ends up being cheaper than purchasing from Borders, Singapore.

For added fun, try paying with cash the next time you purchase from Borders, Singapore, and then returning within 14 days to claim a refund. They apparently have an unwritten store policy whereby cash purchases cannot be refunded, only converted to store credit. Curiously, this detail is absent from the back of the receipt and the stated return policy on the wall.

Calvin Ball, anyone?


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