Earlier this year I had a bit to say to REDgroup which owns Borders and other bookselling brands here and in New Zealand about the reasons why I don’t shop with them. I’m not sure if my assertion that they had the business sense of house bricks was correct or whether today’s announcement, that the company has been placed into voluntary administration, was an inevitable consequence of a changing world. Either way it is big news for book lovers in Australia.
I have been meaning to write a follow up to that original post which prompted a long and heartfelt response from Chuck, a bookseller in Melbourne, who agreed with some of the things I said and disagreed with others, providing some great insight from the retailer’s point of view. The reason I haven’t written the follow up is that I couldn’t really think of the right words to say to someone who clearly is a passionate book lover and who wants to make a long term living from the selling of books. Because I’m just not sure that’s going to be possible for very much longer in this country.
It’s clear I’m not alone in choosing where to buy my books based largely on price. Last weekend my face to face book club met for our monthly get together. We met in a local independent bookstore that is also a coffee shop and it came up in conversation that although we have bought coffee and cakes there not one of us has ever bought a book in that shop. Why not? Too expensive.
It is always sad to see businesses flounder and I genuinely feel for the people who will undoubtedly lose their jobs out of this process. I will also be sad if this is the beginning of the end of bricks & mortar bookstores in this country. But even then I can’t summon any guilt over my part in the downfall of book selling in Australia.
Ever since my brother moved to the US in 1988 and I started making regular trips there I have had personal evidence that Australian readers get royally screwed by ‘the industry’. I really don’t care if it’s the publishers or the sellers or the parallel import restrictions to blame. The point is that for decades we have paid, on average, three times what the rest of the English speaking world has paid for the same book. Until recently we put up with it because we had no alternative but now we have, en masse, adopted overseas retailers and eBooks and any other option newly available to us because we love books but we were sick to death of getting screwed.
Is there a future for bricks and mortar book selling in this country? I’ve no idea. Certainly not if the industry continues to behave in the way it has done both in the distant past and recently. But even if they do adapt and respond intelligently I wonder if this particular genie is out of the bottle for good.
Meanwhile, I’m buying all my books online. And not feeling guilty about it.