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Farewell, Borders June 5, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Blogging, Misc, On Writing, Social/Political Commentary, Technology.
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2 comments

I had been wanting to write about this ever since news broke a few days ago but for whatever reason held off — maybe hoping that it wasn’t true or that it was a mistaken report.

Oh well.  There’s no use denying it anymore.  The last remaining nine Borders bookstores across Australia will close down over the next six to eight weeks.  The fate of the Angus & Robertson chain, also owned by the in-administration REDgroup, remains uncertain at this point.  The only good news is that its online bookstores will remain open.

I still remember the first time Borders opened up in Australia years and years ago.  I loved them.  They had the broadest range of books and I could spent literally hours and hours browsing from one end of the store the other.  It was perfect for people with short attention spans like me, who just want to read the back cover, maybe read a few pages, and move on if it doesn’t interest me.

When I was living in Cambridge (which had all the big booksellers such as Waterstones, WHSmith, Heffers, etc), I pretty much camped out at Borders.  Nothing to do?  Let’s go to Borders and read all afternoon!  Books, comics, manga, magazines, whatever.  It was better than any library.

But that was the problem.  People loved to browse Borders but not buy from them because their books were so bloody expensive, particularly in Australia (I’ll get to that in a sec).  If they were on super duper special, then maybe, you’d consider buying a book or two, but everybody knew that Borders was a place where you went to do your research, not the place you’d ultimately purchase the books from.

These days, especially, it’s all online.  Not just e-books but also paper books from places such as The Book Depository and Amazon.  Yes, if all things were equal, Australian consumers would no doubt want to purchase locally — but when prices were, excluding GST, 35% higher, or in many cases, 50% higher, financial considerations always trumped loyalty.

No wonder Borders struggled so much.  The stores tended to be in areas where the rent was ridiculous.  They required loads of staff and the wide range meant stacks of inventory.  Without competitive prices, they really had no chance.

Interestingly, the online chatter that has come out of the closures have been similar to my sentiments.  Most bemoan the loss of a terrific place to ‘browse’ books, but not much more than that.  Some were even glad that these evil big book chains which bully the independent booksellers have gotten their comeuppance.

Does this represent a fundamental shift in the publishing industry?  If supposedly mighty bookchains such as Borders are collapsing, it makes me wonder what the future holds for other chains such as Angus & Robertson and Dymocks, and to a lesser extent, Kinokuniya.

Is it finally time for the parallel importing restrictions to be lifted?  For those who don’t know, Australia has in place restrictions intended to protect local publishers and writers.  If an Australian holder of publishing rights to a particular title decides to publish it within 30 days of the book becoming available elsewhere in the world, then Australian booksellers are prohibited from importing the title from overseas.

A Productivity Commission report in 2009 recommended that these restrictions be lifted, partly because the bulk of the benefits stemming from the restrictions flowed to offshore publishers and authors, rather than local ones.  The recommendation was never acted upon because of campaigns from domestic publishers and authors, who also have very valid arguments.  Opening the already fragile Australian book industry to the rest of the world has potentially frightening consequences for everyone.

No easy answers, unfortunately.  I just hope the remaining bookchains in Australia have enough support to keep battling on.

Farewell, Borders.

Bookstores dropping like Melissa Leo F-bombs March 1, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Misc, On Writing, Social/Political Commentary.
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2 comments

There’s nothing quite like browsing a good bookstore.  I can spend hours wandering up and down the isles, checking out the commercial bestsellers, the award winners and books with covers that simply appeal to me.  I love it.

When it comes to buying books, however, that’s another story.

Books in Australian stores are, for the most part, notoriously expensive.  There are plenty of reasons why that is the case (amongst them the GST, the population size, publishing houses, etc), but what matters is that Australians aren’t buying books from book stores.  Why would they, when they can get the same books for sometimes half, or even a third of the price online?  And now, with free worldwide shipping offered by some companies such as the Book Depository (and I believe Amazon has followed), Australian booksellers simply can’t compete.

I too have been guilty of purchasing cheaper books — either online or I stock up when I am overseas.  I browse Australian book stores to see what’s on offer, and then I take my business elsewhere.  As someone who hopes to one day crack the Australian book industry, I’m not exactly doing my part to support it.  But on the other side of the coin, why pay more when you can pay less?

As many commentators have said before me, there are no easy answers.  But the reality is that Australian booksellers are dropping (or will be dropping) like Melissa Leo f-bombs during Oscar acceptance speeches.

RedGroup Retail, the conglomerate that owns both the Borders and Angus & Robertson chains in Australia (two of the ‘Big Three’ — the other being Dymocks (there’s also a big Kinokuniya in Sydney)), has been in administration since February, and the latest reports claim that plenty of underachieving stores (out of the 26 Borders and 167 A&R stores) will be closed down in the coming weeks.  Don’t think they have much choice, considering they owe more than $160 million to both secured and unsecured creditors.  Unfortunately, that also means lots of staff will be out of jobs.

With more and more e-books flooding the market, are commercial bookselleser no longer necessary anyway?  Will Aussies head back to the stores if the prices are more competitive?  And how can they possibly make book prices cheaper?  The Government and booksellers around the world need to take a good hard look at the way the industry is currently structured and get their thinking caps on.

In the meantime, I’ll hold off buying more books online and wait for local sales.  Such is the life of a poor student.

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