Former leading New Zealand publisher and bookseller, and widely experienced judge of both the Commonwealth Writers Prize and the Montana New Zealand Book Awards, talks about what he is currently reading, what impresses him and what doesn't, along with chat about the international English language book scene, and links to sites of interest to booklovers.
Bookselling is an industry suffering through the tribulations of digital transformation as e-books and Amazon have upended longstanding business models and put new emphasis on price. Enter the Justice Department and a judge who agreed in a stunning decision last month that five publishers and Apple, a new entrant in the field of bookselling, conspired to fix prices as they tried to constrain a deep-pocketed competitor, Amazon, from controlling the market with unsustainably low prices.
In the meantime, readers had learned that books could be cheap if ordered online, while the nation’s bookstores were becoming showrooms where some consumers browsed then ordered elsewhere, sometimes from their phones right outside (or even inside) the store. Something needed fixing, to be sure. Publishers, hoping to rescue the bookselling infrastructure that had sustained them for decades, needed another new model and looked to Apple to increase competition and level the playing field.
I was an independent bookseller in the early 1990s during the rise of the book “superstore,” so the showrooming phenomenon was nothing new to me. When a superstore moved nearby, customers started “shopping” in our store, browsing, seeking advice, then leaving without making a purchase. Suspicious, we started following them on their beeline to Barnes & Noble, where they inevitably bought the book we had recommended at a discount we couldn’t afford to give. Dispirited, we closed our store. Now Barnes & Noble and all brick-and-mortar bookstores face the same circumstance.
Your local bookstore can’t survive as a showroom. The Justice Department apparently wants you to have cheap book prices above all else. But isn’t there a bigger picture?
We vote at the polls, but also with our wallets. What is the value of the best book you’ve ever read? Can you even put a price on it?