Booksellers outraged over minister telling truth.


Of course, Nick Sherry may have exaggerated or the newspapers may be taking a spin on the story. The claim is:

Nick Sherry had predicted that online shopping would wipe out general bookstores within five years.


I think in five years, other than a few specialist booksellers in capital cities we will not see a bookstore, they will cease to exist.

My own view is that the Minister for Small Business is fundamentally correct, although I think 5 years is probably a bit too short in terms of time frame. But certainly over the next decade, the current type of bookstore will largely go the way of the vinyl record store, the full-service petrol station and the blacksmith. They will be nostalgic memories. Those retailers who survive will have adapted. Some music sellers have done this by successive moves into new products (although I am not sure where they go when movies move on-line). And I do not have a simple answer for booksellers, video stores, or other retailers who face growing internet competition. If I had the answer I would be a rich entrepreneur, not a lowly academic.

But what struck me most about the story was the reaction to Senator Sherry’s comments: horror, disbelief and a view that (apparently) a Small Business Minister should only make comments that (falsely) buoy small business.  In my view, this type of honest and open statement from a Minister should be greeted with relief, not disapproval. And the booksellers that take note of the Senator’s comments and act today may have a chance of being around in 5-10 years time.

14 Responses to "Booksellers outraged over minister telling truth."
  1. One could argue – possibly even convincingly – that the main reason the nation has been dumbed down as much as it has is because state and federal politicans and other *influential* people have not been telling the truth about these things – for more than 40 years.
    And the reason they haven’t been is because of the fairytale of “we can’t upset the people” now can we.  Well, the people need to be upset every now and then and they need to be better informed so they don’t make the dumb decisions that keep them in poverty and in low paying jobs.
    Heaven forbid that an actual minister would tell them the truth and help change their lives.

  2. Many second hand book stores now operate online as well (including via sites like abebooks and  – I know of at least one (that used to be down the Gertrude St of Smith St) that converted from bricks and mortar to wholly online several years ago.

  3. I don’t think five years is too early. They’ll be a niche shop like the shops that only sell buttons. I was at the giant Tuggerah Westfield shopping centre today, with the great gaping hole where Borders used to be. Kindles and eReaders will kill em all off. Once the decline picks up speed it’ll happen very quickly. The death of the bookshop doesn’t bother me so much – but the death of reading does. Unfortunately, people are just not reading like they were (me included).

  4. I hope a few bookshops survive – the great thing about browsing in a shop is that you find titles you wouldn’t have gone looking for but catch your interest. I hate shopping but you can set me down in a bookshop for hours of pleasure.

  5. Well said, Stephen, it’s Minister for Small Business, not Cheerleader for Dying Business Models – or at least that’s how it should be.

    Five years does seem too short a timeframe, but print books will inevitably go the way of the illuminated manuscript.

    The silliest thing which is said is that there is ‘just something’ about print books which e-books can’t replicate.  That ‘something’ isn’t some ineffable premium betterness – it’s the nostalgia every reader feels (myself included) for the thousands of hours pouring over much loved books.

    It won’t be too long though until we have a generation of readers who have been consuming digital formats since before they could walk.  They’ll look at us talking about the mystical, intangible ‘betterness’ of printed books that get lost; that age, tear, and yellow; that get borrowed and never returned, that cost a half-hour’s worth of work just for the non-creative, non-value-add elements of the supply chain – and they will wonder what these old fuddy-duddies are on about.

  6. Would their chances of survival improve if parallel import restrictions were removed?
    I’m not sure what the actual switch is, but I would have thought a significant portion of the public still like their books in hard copy and probably will for more than the immediate future – it’s not so fun to gift an ebook to someone.  I have a number of books on kindle and iPad and they’re convenient for travel but at home I’d choose a hard copy every time.  So is the real problem the increased use of the internet by consumers to bypass the parallel import restrictions imposed on retailers rather than a big move away from the desire for physical books?

  7. Julie, the parallel import restrictions probably have some effect in Australia, since they make the difference in price between ebooks and paper books enormous (most of the time), and it was a big part of why I recently bought an ereader.  But ebook sales are also growing very fast in the US, even though you only save a couple of dollars on the ebook.  Amazon US is selling more ebooks than paper books now, and most of their market would be in America.

  8. One of the local booksellers cited in the Canberra Times did point to the parallel import restrictions as increasing thatir difficulties.  It’s a pity that such people were among the most vociferous opponents of such imports – as I think several people on this blog pointed out at the time, their suppliers had conned them into fighting against their own longterm interests.

    I think large book chains are certainly doomed, at least in physical form.  But boutique bookstores catering to the serious browser-cum-reader may still do OK; they provide a service that can’t easily be reproduced online for which some people will pay.

  9. The parallel import restrictions certainly have helped and as DD points out these same bookstores were leading the charge to make us pay more to publishers – they got their wish. They also said they’d be rooned by Borders
    I borrow about 12 -15 books a week from my library – I can search and reserve them online – they collect them from various branches and put them on a shelf under my name – they then tell me via my login and email when they are ready – I swing past – pick up books – scan them out myself and drive off.  I only buy books I can’t get at library or ones I think are so niche they will go out of print – a lot of the stuff I like-  or referencey type books that will go out of print.
    I get my iPAD2 in a few weeks – but I’ll still buy books I think – mainly from Book Depository or increasingly AMazon UK – free postage and half price compared to local.
    As with music I’ll be happy to buy directly off writers or musos – online or at gigs – rather than give $$ to publishers.

  10. FHX doesn’t buy books frorm bookshops because they have banned people wearing safari suits from entering their premisies

  11. Years ago I supervised the manager of the Hill of Content bookshop.  She knew her regular customers and would keep books she thought they’d like under the counter for their next visit. Nightmare for someone paid to keep working capital costs down (me) but wonderful for customers and the brand.  This was one of the few full-service bookshops in Melbourne and is one of the few that is likely to  survive – Readings is another that will also survive in some form because it employs staff who add value through product and customer knowledge.  That Amazon was able to do a better job than the average suburban book depot is an indictment of those lazy retailers, good riddance to them and their Harvey Norman-esque low cost even lower value business model.

  12. Amazon has pretty handy ‘recommendations’ as well which is analogous to the bookshops customer knowledge. One advantage Amazon definitely has (that hasn’t already been mentioned) over the physical bookshops is the review sections. Crowdsourcing reviews is utility enhancing but isn’t something that can be replicated by a physical store.

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