During my vacation last month, I picked out an old book to read again: Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier. The book was published in 1997 and it was made into a movie too. If you like literary fiction, I highly recommend the book, which is about a “sorely wounded and fatally disillusioned Confederate soldier who decides to walk back to his home in the Blue Ridge Mountains and to Ada, the woman he loved three years before.”
When I finished the book, I noticed the following advertisement on the last page, which made me realize how far we’ve come with e-commerce and delivery over the past two decades.
Wanted to buy the audio book? You had to visit a bookstore (which I still love to do), call a toll-free number, or fill out the form and mail it to the publisher. No option to order online.
The audio book only came in cassette format (I wonder why not CD too); digital download, of course, was still years away.
If you ordered by phone or mail, they wanted you to indicate a tracking code. For what? It certainly wasn’t for you to track your order or shipment.
Forget about free shipping. You had to pay for shipping and handling, and the more you ordered, the more you had to pay.
Like all mail and phone orders of the day, “Please allow 4-6 weeks for delivery” was the standard. Now that I think about it, why did it take so long?!
And if you were interested in seeing what other audiobooks were available, you had to mail a letter to the publisher.
That was then and this is now:
I can order the paperback book right now on Amazon and receive it tomorrow — for free!
I paid $13 for the book in 1997 dollars; it only costs $11.59 today. I can also get the digital or audio versions of the book instantly.
In 1997, the audio cassette read by the author cost $44.95 (plus $6.00 for S&H); today it costs $26.95, no shipping and handling fees, no waiting.
And if I’m interested in other books, I can browse an almost endless catalogue online, across many different formats.
When it comes to e-commerce and delivery, we’ve come a long way in 23 years. How much further is there to go? Will I in 2043 look back to today with the same level of awe and amusement?