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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Arbitrage: Books

Despite the fact that I have an iPad and read e-books with the Kindle app or iBooks, I still like physical books. I like the construction and feel of a book as an object and enjoy the act of flipping through the pages. Therefore, I still buy many books every year, especially hardcover English-language books. However, I almost never buy them in Taiwan, neither online nor at Eslite bookstore. The reason is simple, the hardcover books are almost always cheaper at

Recently I purchased the new cookbook by Daniel Patterson of Coi Restaurant in San Francisco. This book is available at Eslite for NT$1,521 at a special discount of 21% off the original price. At first glance the discount seems to suggest this might be a good deal, but it is actually not.

At, the same book is available for US$33.33 (33% off the list price). Since the book needs to be shipped to Taiwan, there are additional shipping charges of US$4.99 per shipment and US$4.99 per book. The total cost of the book purchased on is US$43.31 or around NT$1280.

Eslite would have to discount the book by around 33 percent from their list price to make the price to be about the same.

The cost difference between Eslite and Amazon is greater the more expensive the book because the shipping cost becomes a smaller percentage of the overall cost. Also, if one purchases multiple books in one shipment, the cost will go down as well since one of the shipping cost is per shipment. Furthermore, Amazon often offers greater discount for Best Sellers (around 45% off list) or for pre-ordering. Not only is pre-ordering cheaper but one also gets the book much sooner than the local stores. I pre-ordered Daniel Boulud's new book Daniel a few months ago, which Amazon was offering for 50% off list for US$30 or US$39.98 with shipping. I received the book a few weeks ago after it was published; as of today neither Eslite nor have the book yet.

I am not sure why the local bookstore cannot be more competitive on price; then again, not too many companies anywhere can compete with Amazon. I just know I am not buying foreign books via a local seller.