Once upon a time, books were sent through the post in adequate packing; they were placed lovingly into specially designed thick cardboard book boxes, or they were wrapped in bubble wrap with protective sheets of card wrapped around that. They arrived, unless the postman played football with them for a couple of hours (in the rain), in the same condition as that in which they left the bookseller's hands. Books travelled across the world and arrived at their destination in pristine condition; my shelves are full of books that made such journeys and lived to tell the tale.
Nowadays, in the world of online high-speed cut-price-book-flogging, there's so much price-reduction-orientated corner-cutting that books are sent out almost naked. In all likelihood, if the trip through the Royal Mail doesn't do for them, that last drop from the letterbox to the ground beneath it most certainly will. I've taken to placing a soft pillow beneath mine, to catch those weary volumes that weren't respected enough to be sent out in decent travelling attire. But this measure is only successful if the book was sent out in good condition in the first place, as opposed to being molested by packing staff prior to the commencement of its travels.
There are many booksellers who are most accomplished in the field of bibliophilic assault, but the company that, at present at least, leaves the others in the shade is The Book Depository.
It is the done thing these days to send books both large and small, no matter how heavy or valuable they may be, through the post in a jiffy bag (the inventor of which should be hanged, drawn and quartered). The Book Depository, however, has gone one better. You may, if you're lucky (for want of a better word), receive a jiffied tome; alternatively, you could receive your book in one of these:
It is called, by its manufacturers, a lil' envelope... and that most certainly is what it is. An envelope. Who knew that it was actually possible to produce a packing material that offers less protection to a book than a jiffy bag? The wondrous powers of human inventiveness never cease to amaze me.
Keeping jiffy bags and lil' envelopes in mind, you'll hardly be surprised to hear that books arrive from The Book Depository in less than perfect condition. Insult is added to injury by the fact that they don't leave that company's premises in perfect condition to begin with. This is the 'new' book that I received yesterday, complete with a slash across the top of the front cover, a heavily creased spine (from being opened by someone who felt like a little light reading in the packing room?), and bumped corners. The black spot beneath 'Mankind' is an ink mark, presumably added because the book didn't look sufficiently secondhand already.
Well, these things happen, I suppose. Mrs Packer had left her spectacles at home and failed to notice, before shoving the book into inadequate packing, that the book had been trampled by a felt-tip pen wielding, literate elephant earlier in the day. So, I wrote an email to The Book Depository to ask for a refund. They requested photographs of the damage, which I duly sent off in a second email. Their response?
'I’m very sorry to hear about this. In this case we could offer a 30% refund to you for the damaged item, would this be acceptable?'
A 30% refund? On what planet in this Universe of ours would that ever be considered acceptable? But it wasn't the first time I'd experienced some difficulty when trying to get a refund from The Book Depository. In May last year, a book arrived with a damaged cover (the damage having occurred prior to shipping), and I was offered a partial refund and told that I would still have to pay for the book's postage. A little light tweeting to The Book Depository on Twitter sorted that matter out, after I'd publicly expressed my indignation at their 'bloody cheek'. Then there was the Leonardo da Vinci book that arrived with a worn cover, and the partial refund I was offered for that.
Oh, and then there was the book that didn't arrive at all. Having informed customer services on the 16th March (this year) that it had not been delivered, I was told that I would receive a refund. No refund arrived, so I wrote to customer services again. No response. So I toddled on over to Twitter...
But no refund arrived. More emails were sent. Eventually, on the 13th April, one month after the book failed to show up, I got my refund in the form of a cheque. I thought about having it framed.
After receiving my most recent 30% refund offer (for which I was so overcome by their generosity that I was almost moved to tears), I decided (better abysmally late than never) that I would never buy a book from The Book Depository again. I wrote to customer services and asked them to cancel my two outstanding pre-orders. Much to my surprise, they informed me that I would receive a refund for those two books (a full one too... not 30%... it must be Christmas). But wait, those two books aren't even available yet; one isn't due out until January 2013! Since when was it considered appropriate for a bookseller to charge for a pre-ordered book nine months before it's published?
A little surprised by this turn of events, I started to think (which is never a good thing) about my previous orders. Last April I pre-ordered a book from The Book Depository, but it didn't occur to me to check at the time to see if I'd been charged for it straight away (after all, who takes a payment for a book that's not due out for a year?). Well, The Book Depository does. Ordered on the 18th April 2011, charged for on the 21st April 2011, shipped one year later on the 16th April 2012. Well, sink me... what do you think of them apples?!
A couple of years ago, I recommended The Book Depository to friends both online and off. My first few books had arrived quickly and in good condition (in proper cardboard book boxes). I now feel responsible for leading those who were daft enough to listen to me into the clutches of a company that has no respect whatsoever for the books in its care or for the customers it is supposed to serve. Considering the way that books are treated by some booksellers, it's small wonder that so many unfortunate tomes find their way back to their publishers to be pulped.
When it comes to the charge of grievous bookish harm, the jury (that would be me) finds The Book Depository guilty in the first degree.