DOES AMAZON REALLY CHARGE LESS THAN USCF?
by John Hillery
Editor's note: It has become an article of faith among USCF leaders, and probably many members, that USCF cannot compete with the chessbook prices charged by Amazon.com and other internet retailers. The Federation, it is widely believed, must concede a price advantage to Amazon and others, hoping that members will purchase from USCF in order to help promote American chess.
John Hillery recently compared prices on some books to see how much of an advantage Amazon has. What he found was quite surprising.
I did a spot check of five books, more or less at random. Results:
Kramnik's Best games: Amazon $19.96, USCF $19.35
Shirov, Fire On Board: Amazon $15.96, USCF $16.35
Alburt, Just the Facts: Amazon $21.56, USCF $21.35
Schultz, Chessdon: Amazon $23.95, USCF $18.35
Schiller, World Champion Openings: Amazon $15.16, USCF $15.35
Total: Amazon $96.59, USCF $90.75
However, this ignores the shipping and handling charge. Amazon has an up-front charge plus a per-item fee, while the USCF has a sliding scale based on the amount of the order (which is a little odd since it doesn't cost any more to mail $50 book than a $15 book). If someone ordered all five of these books, the charge would be $8.35 Amazon, $11.45 USCF, bringing the total to $104.94 Amazon, $102.20 USCF. Still looks good, right? However, if you bought only one book, the s/h would be $4.39 Amazon, $5.45 USCF, much more than the price differential.
It seems pretty clear that, contrary to what several of the EB candidates were saying in the last election, the USCF is not being undersold by internet retailers. The real difference is customer service. The USCF, with a much smaller customer base, ought to be able to give better service, but they are not trying very hard.
Later: To make sure this wasn't a statistical aberration, I checked a few more books:
Silman, How to Reassess Your Chess: Amazon $14.35, USCF $14.35
Watson, Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy: Amazon $24.95, USCF $19.35
The Turk: Chess Automaton: Amazon $50.00, USCF $80.00
Averbakh, Selected Games: Amazon $21.95, USCF $17.35
The overall trend is the same, though the coffeetable book does bring up the average. I doubt the USCF is going to sell many of these at any price. Another point worth noting, though, is availability. This ought to be the USCF's strongest point. But I found, for example, that both Silman's "The Amateur's Mind" and Watson's "Play the French" are available from Amazon but not from USCF. I must again conclude that the problem is not pricing but customer service.