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Postal Changes Means Bad News for Used Booksellers

The New York Times’ Bob Tedeschi reports on an upcoming change by the United States Postal Service that may have a dramatic impact on how used booksellers do business. That’s because as of mid-May, it would no longer transport goods internationally via cargo ships for individual customers. These so-called surface deliveries have been the crucial method by which booksellers have sold books to foreign markets because the cost is about one-third that of air mail. “If postage costs as much, if not more, than the book, it’ll be hard to sell books,” said Rob Stuart, owner of FrenchboroBooks.com, a seller of rare and antique books in Frenchboro, Maine, population 75. “And maybe 25 percent or more of my books sell internationally.”

Analysts said Amazon.com would not be affected by the change; international book shipments represent a small fraction of its business, and because, like other high-volume businesses, it can qualify for discounts on foreign shipments. “We’re already competing with the special deals the Postal Service does with Amazon, eBay and the big book purveyors that get cut rates on postage because of volume,” Stuart told the NYT, emphasizing that the postal changes means the island’s mail deliveries could be threatened, and he may also be forced to lay off a part-time worker. “So when they drop economy international shipping, they’re playing with a model that talks about economies of scale – one that’s balanced by a few huge operations, and wipes out the little operations.”

Yvonne Yoerger, a spokeswoman for the Postal Service, said customers aren’t yet aware of other options. She told the NYT that “customized agreements” for surface mail are being developed for higher-volume shippers that will be enhanced over the next several months to address the needs of small businesses. “The Postal Service has a longstanding commitment to small businesses and is working to accommodate customers’ needs as the international mail changes take effect.”

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