I had identified the concept long before I had ever heard the term, which describes it: dropshipping.
Dropshipping proliferates as a business model within online retail. In a nutshell, it is offering a product for sale, which you do not hold in stock, and which you only purchase once you have received an order for it. On many levels, it makes good business sense: it means there is no need to store large quantities of goods; no up-front expenditure on stock; the dropshipping business simply operates as a conduit between customer and supplier, taking their mark-up cut in the process. For many goods, the practice operates perfectly well. However, when the goods are collectable first edition books, the practice is simply a nuisance.
The problem becomes one of supply. Whilst the dropshipper might be appearing to offer a collectable book for sale, the likelihood is that they will be unable to source one should they receive an order. A book, which is rare and hard to find for me, is equally rare and hard to find for a dropshipper.
Most of the dropshippers operating within the field of rare books appear to be based in the US. Most of the time, I am able to recognise the same old retailers’ names cropping up time and time again, and avoid them like the plague. Just occasionally, though, I get seduced into making a purchase, invariably to find that, after a lengthy wait and no book forthcoming, I have to contact the seller and request a refund; or, even worse, after a lengthy wait I receive a book but, rather than the rare, hardback first edition I have been expecting it turns out to be a cheap paperback edition of the same title and, once again, I have to get in touch with the online retailer and request a refund.
Dropshipping in a marketplace where the commodity is in short supply does not work. It is a waste of the retailer’s time and it is a waste of my time.
© Fergus Longfellow
Fergus Longfellow recalls the days when rare books turned up on shelves not just on the internet.