Follow-up to "Múrar bókaþjóðarinnar" — 6 January 2007

Recently I wrote an article about the Icelandic book market, and particularly the problem of access to foreign books, which appeared in Morgunblaðið on 28 October 2006 under the name of "Múrar bókaþjóðarinnar." I've been continuing to follow book matters since, and below are some new observations.

ShopUSA lowers their prices for book shipments

Shortly after my article was published, ShopUSA lowered their prices on books, and later they lowered them again. ShopUSA doesn't make their pricing formula public, but they include a price calculator at the top of their website ( Here are the results, in ISK, for the category "books," on three different dates, using four different base prices:

FOB price (with shipping) in USD, category books

October 31 ($1=68,24 kr.)

November 1 ($1=67,59 kr.)

December 27 ($1=71,58 kr.)

















The first price decrease, between October 31 and November 1, seems to have affected only the lower-priced books (the difference between the October 31 and November 1 prices for the $60 book apparently reflects only the exchange rate). The second price decrease, which took place sometime in November or December, seems to have been across the board, and amounts to about 2.7% net in Icelandic crowns, despite an unfavorable exchange rate movement at the same time.

Comparing ShopUSA's and Amazon's prices can be tricky, because Amazon's shipping price varies according to the number of books per package (ShopUSA's doesn't), because ShopUSA's competitiveness in processing Amazon orders varies according to whether your Amazon order qualifies for free shipping within the USA or not, and because it is hard to quantify the extra bother of using ShopUSA (registering with them and then then registering each package with them as you order it). However, in general, these price changes have brought the cost of having ShopUSA ship a book order from close to the cost of having ship it directly. Sometimes ShopUSA beats Amazon, sometimes not. In general, ShopUSA is most likely to save you money if your order from Amazon costs more than $25 before shipping, qualifies for free domestic shipping in the USA, contains more than one book, and will be shipped in a single package.

If ShopUSA's price cut had anything to do with my article — and I think that the first price drop may have — then it's exactly the kind of effect I hoped the article would bring about.

More experience of Bóksala stúdenta

In my article, I suggested that those people who live in Reykjavík and can pick up book orders at Bóksala stúdenta will save money by ordering through them. This is still generally true, and I have had good luck with Bóksala. For example, I ordered a book from Britain, which at the time retailed for 1340 kr., through Bóksala for 1556 kr.; ordered direct from, the price would have been 2219 kr.

However, in one case I ordered from Bóksala but would have done better buying a book from The book in question had a relatively high list price ($58) but was heavily discounted on Amazon (to $34). When placing my order on the Bóksala website, I mentioned in the "comments" field that the book was available at a large discount on Amazon, and expected that Bóksala would buy the book at the discount price and pass some of the savings on to me. This didn't happen. Bóksala priced the book at 4942 kr., a figure I believe was derived from the list price of $58 rather than the discounted price of $34. Ordering directly from Amazon, in contrast, would have cost me 4082 kr.; having the book shipped through ShopUSA would have cut the price to 3841 kr. The lesson is this: if a book is available at a deep discount from an overseas retailer, especially if it is an expensive book, Bóksala may not be your cheapest option. In these cases, ordering directly from the retailer (with shipping either direct or via ShopUSA) will let you benefit from the deep discount; ordering from Bóksala won't. However, these cases are probably the exception rather than the rule. In general, Bóksala is a good way to order foreign books, especially single books.

One complaint I have heard about Bóksala is that they are not willing to quote prices for special orders beforehand. A friend wanted to order a computer book through Bóksala, but a staff member in the store couldn't say how much it would cost, so he went home grumpily and just ordered the book from Amazon instead. It is, in my experience, fairly common in Iceland that customers decide to buy something without knowing its price. This is not so common elsewhere, and in many countries, a storekeeper's reluctance to state a price before closing the transaction is thought very rude. I wonder if it might not be worth the trouble for Bóksala to start offering a price-quote service. Customers could check a box on the online order form, asking to be contacted with a price quote before confirming their order. If I had been able to do this in the case of the $58 book, it would have made me a happier customer.

Haraldur íkorni (

This new net-based bookstore, run by Ösp Viggósdóttir, started up just about the time that my article came out. Haraldur íkorni sells new Icelandic books and ships them to you by mail; this is not so unusual, as Bóksala stúdenta (among others) has been doing this for a long time. What is truly new about Haraldur íkorni is that they are also listing used books, both Icelandic and foreign. You can search for, say, "Dan Brown" or "Þórbergur Þórðarson," find used paperbacks by these authors for sale right here in Iceland, and order them by mail -- just like in other countries. Haraldur íkorni's stock is not as large as one would like, but this is a small island, so let's be thankful for this big step forward. Here's my wish: I would like to see Haraldur íkorni's search engine connected with abebooks or Amazon. I mean that I would like to be able to search for a given book, and see results in Iceland and in other countries, with the Icelandic results listed first.

Last updated 6 January 2007