This week, the Australian arm of Borders bookstores and its retail stablemate Angus & Robertson went into voluntary administration, citing debts of up to $75 million. Whispers of the group’s demise were going around last August. Some news reports and commentators in the blogsphere blamed the rise of internet shopping and high overheads.
Can we blame the closures on slow book sales? On online competitors who operate on lower costs? This article says it isn’t our love of internet shopping that has caused the demise of an empire. Overexpansion on the part of the private equity owners, who were hoping to float the company to raise cash, seems to be the key.
The collapse of bricks’n’mortar stores has spooked a lot of book-lovers. A&R, after all, has a 125-year history and hundreds of people will lose their jobs. Could there be a domino effect on the other big chains?
With big players out of the game, it’s now a good opportunity for those still in the marketplace to reassess their strategies and stay competitive. Some are saying that the increase in downloadable e-book formats means we won’t need so many bookstores in future. Maybe that’s true. I, for one, would hate to see a total loss of real shopfronts. There’s nothing like browsing in a bookstore for hours, smelling the ink, reading opening sentences, touching all those gorgeous embossed covers. In fact, I once browsed so long in the old A&R Pitt Street store that a security guard started to tail me, making me feel like a book thief. That incident actually stopped me from patronising that particular store ever again.
It’s no secret that I love the UK’s Book Depository. (Free postage? Fast, hassle-free service? No overzealous security guards? Who wouldn’t be seduced by a deal like that? Surely our retailers here could do some brainstorming and find ways to offer their customers similar perks.) But like a lot of people, I will continue to buy books from all over, including my favourite “real” stores:
- Kinokuniya, Sydney
- Better Read Than Dead, Sydney
- Gleebooks, Sydney
- Berkelouw, Sydney
- Dymocks, Broadway. However, it has to be said that their romance section gets smaller and smaller every time I visit. Considering romance outsells every other genre, I think they’re missing an opportunity.
Do you have a favourite bricks’n’mortar bookshop? How do you think bricks’n’mortar stores can improve their game?