Friday, February 25, 2011

Book buyers need to put money where their hearts are

Corrie Perkin, Sydney Morning Herald, February 23, 2011

Unhappy eneding ... The Borders bookshop in Carlton. Photo: Jason South

Professing your love for the local bookstore is not enough to save it.

Discussion about the future of bookstores has brought out the best and worst in bookworms. For every customer who has come into our shop in the past few days and expressed their support, there are probably another five at home who have decided to jump on the web and see what the online book-buying fuss is all about.

It's possible that, having discovered a paperback copy of Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo for $8.15, the bookworm wavers. Save money by buying through a US or British-based website, or support my local, independent bookshop? A tough choice in a tough economic climate.

That's why most independent booksellers have responded with caution to the demise last week of RedGroup Retail, owners of Angus and Robertson and Australia's Borders chain.

"This must be good news for you,'' customers have been telling us. "It's like You've Got Mail,'' one said, referring to the 1998 movie in which Meg Ryan's character owns a small bookshop that is forced to close when Tom Hanks's big department store-like chain bookshop opens nearby. "The difference is, you win the battle.''

Our shop is just around the corner from Borders' South Yarra store. Since we opened in late 2009, it has never felt like a battle; the two business models are vastly different and Borders has been a convenient place to refer customers looking for a genre we don't stock. Certainly, it would be nice to think the week's media coverage might result in increased sales for our shop, and all of Melbourne's indie bookstores. But RedGroup's very public blaming of the online buying phenomenon for its woes conveniently shifted the spotlight off its own executives' performance. Now, everyone is talking online. The worry is, those who have never bought books via their computer may think, "Why not?''

But there is an upside. RedGroup's collapse offers independent bookshops a chance to capitalise on some very tangible goodwill. Customers tell you they want you to stay in business, which is reaffirming. Publishers who have lost - in some cases - 20 to 30 per cent of their business because of the A&R-Borders meltdown will be more open to doing deals and the savings can be passed on to our customers.

Read the full piece at the Sydney Morning Herald.

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