Waterstones buzzes

I love the idea of Hive.co.uk where any book can be delivered to a local independent bookshop, and picked up in person from the shop. In practice it was easy and simple, bypassing all the inevitable hassle with big heavy parcels and couriers trying to deliver to a residential address where the outer door needs an entry-code.

I say “was” because, since the demise of my local indie bookshop, there’s now nowhere local to collect from. There is one local Hive affiliate left, but that’s up in the nearby moorland town of Leek. For me that might as well be on the Moon, in terms of the public transport connections and times. Not to mention the inevitable bus-sickness on two hours there-and-back. (‘How can it take that long to go ten miles’, you ask — ‘Welcome to North Staffordshire’s bus service’, I reply).

The city centre does still have a medium-sized Waterstones with a fairly humdrum stock, and it’s walk-able in terms of the distance. But I hadn’t even considered them as a Hive alternative until now. It turns out they do now offer a Hive-like collection service, via their online catalogue. They also offer something which Hive doesn’t, a wish-list. Bliss.

Delivery to the shop is free, too.

It turns out they have most, but not all, of the most important books I want. I’m happy to buy Kindle ebooks, of course. But there are many small scholarly publishers who use print-on-demand and offer no ebook edition.

Currently my local Waterstones can get, for instance…

However they’re light on some items. It’s difficult to believe, for instance, that J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist and Illustrator can have been allowed to go out of print and become unavailable in both paperback and hardback. How is that even possible? There’s also no listing of the University of Tampa’s vital book of key Lovecraft letters, O Fortunate Floridian: H.P. Lovecraft’s Letters to R.H. Barlow, still in-print. Some of the most recent Hippocampus Press titles are as-yet unlisted, but that’s probably because Hippocampus (or perhaps the POD printers Lightening Source) hasn’t yet uploaded the metadata to the world’s databases. It’s curious that the Disney book Before Tomorrowland is also missing, despite Amazon having it. Stover’s annotated The Time Machine: an Invention: A Critical Text is only “unavailable” as a hardback, where there’s a perfectly good in-print paperback available. They do however have a paperback of Arata’s The Time Machine – Norton Critical Editions.

Sadly they have the same jumbled and junky reviews as Amazon does — reviews which pertain to some other edition of the work rather than to the specific edition of it that you’re buying. Thus reviews of shoddy audiobooks get jumbled with reviews of ebook editions, and then these reviews are somehow supposed to ‘represent’ a fine annotated critical edition.

Anyway, Waterstones keep your shipment for 90 days at the shop, giving ample leeway for assemblage of a disparate order and then an in-person pick-up. Regrettably… “We do not currently accept National Book Tokens or paper gift vouchers online”. But it’s left unclear if they might accept book tokens for an in-person pickup, if (as with Hive.co.uk) one pays only on collection?

Sadly there’s no mention of accepting PayPal for a pre-paid order, so presumably they want a credit card. Big companies like this miss out on so many impulse buys, which would come if only they accepted PayPal. The same goes for Amazon’s Kindle ebooks.

I see there’s also a Waterstones Marketplace which links with Alibris for used books, but reading between the lines it looks like this is handled by the Alibris vendor and is thus ‘ship-to-the-home’ rather than ‘ship-to-the-store for 90-day collection along with your new books’. On a search for the missing Fortunate Floridian (see above) there was anyway no offer of a button to ‘Search on Marketplace’ for it.


Update: I see that eBay are now offering free shipping to and collection from your local Argos store (and Sainsbury’s, some of which have Argos inside them). It seems that all my local Argos and Sainsbury’s participate. And, of course, PayPal is accepted by eBay. This makes it a very interesting alternative to Waterstones (see above), though it seems it’s limited to the same set of new books and doesn’t extend to used books. The only downside would be that it would definitely be a less-cultured pick-up, re: waiting in the queue at a Stoke-on-Trent Argos.

Further update: no, it also extends to most used books a well, from large sellers. Wonderful! The only (fairly huge) problem there is that it is only kept for seven days inc. weekends. Compared to a much more sensible 90 days for Waterstones. For new books, it may be worth paying a premium of a few pounds at Waterstones in order to be able to collect at leisure, as and when.

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