Amazon Shines for Tolkien Scholars

17 Feb 2005

Paul R. Potts

So, I’ve now received the first five volumes of The History of Middle Earth in hardcover, purchased through Amazon. Two of the volumes were out of print, but were available as old/new stock (new books, but available through bookshops that specialize in remaindered or out-of-print books). I was able to process everything right through Amazon, just like I am able to buy from multiple used-book vendors via (which I also highly recommend). Apparently you can now buy used books via Amazon in a similar arrangement, but I have not tried it, preferring to support a smaller company in that case. The History of Middle Earth volumes, they are kind of in a gray area between used and new: they are regularly reprinted, but probably not in large quantities, and brick-and-mortar bookstores won’t tend to stock them. The used copies available through tend to be very expensive first editions, or the limited collector’s editions that cost hundreds of dollars. I don’t particularly care which editions I get; I just wanted the whole set in hardcover, since the softcover editions are missing content. I have a feeling that most of the hardcover copies of the History volumes don’t circulate a lot as used books; if someone actually took the trouble to track them down and buy them, they probably knew what they were getting, and wanted the books to be part of their permanent library.

Amazon provided a real advantage here: the list price of The History of Middle Earth is $30 per volume; on Amazon, I think I paid $17 each for most of them. The three volumes that came directly from Amazon came with free shipping. The ones that didn’t were a bit more expensive and I had to pay for shipping, but the net result was still less than the $30 list price. Then, there is the matter of availability; most bookstores don’t carry The History of Middle Earth volumes, or if they do, there will be one battered copy that has been thumbed by a lot of people but not purchased. I could have ordered them from a local bookstore, but they probably would have had the same issue as Amazon with the unavailability of certain volumes.

I’ve also received two of the next four books in the series, the ones that constitute the history of The Lord of the Rings. Amazon has required some extra lead time to track down copies of all four of these volumes. But they did, and although when you get free super saver shipping you usually have to wait for your order to be complete so that it is sent out in one package, in this case Amazon actually shipped the first two, when it looked like the rest were going to take a while, and then even sent the next two as separate orders one day apart, just to expedite matters. Someone (or perhaps even a rule in their computer system) was authorized to change the shipping arrangements to make sure I didn’t have to wait longer than necessary for the part of my order that was ready. And they didn’t charge me extra for shipping in multiple batches. That’s a perfect example of why people come back to Amazon.

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