Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Breaking borders: how to make the best bookshop in the world

The independent chain was awarded International Bookstore of the Year this week. According to Readings’ manager Mark Rubbo, it’s all about community

The flagship store of Melbourne’s Readings, which won International Bookstore of the Year at the London Book Fair

Melbourne bookshop Readings, which won International Bookstore of the Year at the London Book Fair. Photograph: Readings
It was February 2011 when Borders Group collapsed, with the thundering crash of a retail giant. The Australian division was owned by the same parent company as Angus & Robertson, and both national chains went into voluntary administration. The local companies had a combined staff of 2,500. The book industry was shaken.
Pundits had predicted this, of course: online shopping was too easy, and physical books too burdensome. Bookshops couldn’t compete with eBooks and Amazon, and soon – like record stores – they’d all go bust.
Or so, at least, we thought.

“I thought that too!” laughs Mark Rubbo, when I pose this to him. But for Rubbo, managing director of Australian booksellers Readings, the Borders downfall signalled a new beginning: the long, hard battle he’d been fighting had been won.

We meet at his flagship store in Carlton, to discuss what makes Readings one of the best bookstores in the world. That’s not necessarily hyperbole, either: on Wednesday at the London Book Fair, Readings won International Bookstore of the Year, a category open to all stores outside of the UK. 

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