Rare Book Monthly

Articles - May - 2005 Issue

Confessions of a Compulsive Book Packer

A0509

Lay the book on brown paper, fold it over and tack.


By Renee Magriel Roberts

Today I added another dealer name to my "never buy from again" master list when a book that I ordered arrived thrown bare and banged-up in a Priority Mail envelope. So, before I launch into this packing "how-to" article, kudos to all you dealers -- you know who you are -- who take the time to carefully examine, repair, and beautifully package your products and ship them promptly and in the right way -- you need read no further.

In Internet commerce there are several critical points at which there is customer contact: the quality and care taken in the book description, the pre-sale communication and negotiation, the arrival of the book, and the post-sale follow-up.

I pack, or assist in packing, every single book that leaves our shop. I do not view packing as some kind of lesser blue-collar job, unworthy of my experience and education. As any experienced shipper in any industry knows (and shippers, by the way, in the real world, are paid some serious dollars), proper or improper packing and shipping can make or break a business.

Packing for me is really a relief; after spending most of my day researching books, communicating with customers, marketing, editing, making decisions for our publishing company, basically hanging out on the computer, packing is an active, Zen, three-dimensional activity -- a way to demonstrate to every customer, no matter how large or small the sale -- that we care about the quality of the product we are selling and the integrity of the transaction. We want that book to arrive in precisely the same condition that it left our shop, period.

It is simply not enough to have a good book, create an accurate description, and charge a fair price. The way in which a book is packaged is critical to your customers' perception that they are receiving a quality product. Good packaging leads to that after-sale glow which may result in additional sales, and conversely, it may avoid the return or buyer's remorse, which is an after-sale disaster. Bad packaging conveys the message that you do not care about the book and you do not care about the customer. Cheap packaging conveys the message that you would rather save a dollar or two than put that oversize, easily-bruised book in a box (or even a double-box) to ensure that it gets where it is going without damage.

Good packaging is good marketing. Why do businesses spend so much money on designing packaging for their products? Simply, because attractive packaging conveys a "super-message" to the customer, over and above the quality of the contents. While I don't waste money on "designed" packaging, I do try to pack well.

Rare Book Monthly

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