Love of bookshops in a time of Amazon and populism



File 20170810 27672 n64m24
Saturday is Love Your Bookshop Day –
but bookshops face many challenges.
Shutterstock

Nathan Hollier, Monash University

There was genuine positivity at this year’s Australian Booksellers’ Association Conference in Melbourne in June. The mood was one of camaraderie and optimism at the sharing of good news. And it only brightened with the news that our National Bookshop Day was to be rebranded this year as Love Your Bookshop Day. Why not?

Saturday is that day. Expect to see your local bookshop buntinged, postered, streamered and perhaps offering special bargains. Assuming, of course, you have a local bookshop.

Store numbers have steadied in recent years and, as was reported at the conference, both independent and chain or franchise booksellers are expanding. Children’s book sales in particular are performing well. (“The bookshop is dead. Long live the bookshop,” reads a plaque at Embiggen Books in Melbourne’s CBD.)

But over the past couple of decades the sector has wrestled with the challenges of superstores, GST, the GFC, one-sided international post deals, ebooks and online-only undercutters.

Now the greatest of these online stores, certainly in terms of market share, will soon be competing with Australian bookstores from a new base here. Amazon has secured a massive distribution centre site near Dandenong in outer-eastern Melbourne. Dire predictions for parts of the Australian retail sector have already been made.

Local booksellers too will need to adjust to this new environment, in which Amazon will likely reduce its delivery time and charges significantly. This will place downward pressure on book prices, and thus booksellers’ margins and capacity to survive.

Amazon has itself experimented with physical bookstores in recent times, to underwhelming reviews, but its primary focus has, of course, been on being able to offer “everything” at the “everyday low prices” of its American precursors (and sometime role models), Walmart and Costco.

Today’s booksellers must choose what to put on their shelves from around 7,000 new releases each month. As all of these will be on the “shelves” of Amazon, local booksellers will need to maintain an intimate knowledge of what will appeal to their customer base.

This curatorial role, which has always been part of what good booksellers do, takes on extra importance in the digital age. Curating, one might say, is the opposite approach to that of Amazon, which instead expertly removes barriers to purchasing, encouraging impulse buying. The extra services local booksellers provide, in addition to low prices and the range of stock, will likely need beefing up also. Community building will be the order of the day.

The current shrinkage of review pages of broadsheet newspapers will also hurt many bookshops, as they depend on a degree of consensus as to what is important and valuable to read.

Price instability may well grow in Australia with the arrival of Amazon. Publishers have argued over the decades that this instability also discourages consumer confidence.

The Productivity Commission doesn’t accept arguments in favour of maintaining price levels for some products in order to keep the costs of others down. But regulatory bodies have special challenges when confronted with large, diverse conglomerates, such as Amazon. It has the capacity to drop prices for products in one category (such as books) to maximise competitiveness, while the overall bottom line is propped up by more profitable parts of the business (such as Amazon Web Services).

In the face of aggressive price cutting from firms like … well, Amazon … regulatory bodies concerned with fair prices for consumers are yet to find an effective means of properly accounting for the fact that its success has been partly based on exploiting publicly developed (and funded) technology and infrastructure, determined strategies of tax minimisation, aggressive use of IP and patent law, and sustained intransigence towards its workforce’s self-organisation and unionisation.

Andy Griffiths: a bookshop favourite.
Carol Cho/AAP

On Tuesday morning this past week, a crowd of parents and kids waited in the cold out the front of our local suburban bookshop till, at 9 o’clock, they could rush in and buy the latest Treehouse book, by Andy Griffiths. The bookseller handed out free copies of a quality cookbook to parents. Community spirit, human connectedness and customer loyalty all bloomed nicely.

As the legendary Collins bookseller, Michael Zifcack, recalled in his memoirs,
“I realised early on that customer service was the secret of successful bookselling.”

I’ll be heading to that local shop on Saturday, but can also, of course, appreciate the access to more or less every available product that online shopping provides. No doubt there is room for both retail models within our society.

What remains most important, when thinking about the health of the book industry here, is that no matter how cheap we make these products, there won’t be effective demand for them unless people have the time and desire to read.

The ConversationThis desire, in turn, rests most powerfully on the belief that what one knows and says matters; that democracy, its public sphere, and reason, evidence and logic are the driving forces of one’s society. For all of us, that challenge is ongoing and, broadly speaking, we will get the books and bookshops we deserve.

Nathan Hollier, Director, Monash University Publishing, Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Advertisements

Book Review: Killing Calvinism – How to Destroy a Perfectly Good Theology from the Inside, by Greg Dutcher


Killing CalvinismI have started reading ‘Killing Calvinism – How to Destroy a Perfectly Good Theology from the Inside,’ by Greg Dutcher. This book was released by Cruciform Press in June 2012, so I have been reading a new book for a change. Generally I read books that were written many years ago, often several centuries ago, so this was a bit unusual for me. It was however the title of the book, along with a review that I had read somewhere, that drew my attention to it and so I decided to buy it at Amazon in Kindle format.

So reading the book I quickly discovered that it was a very easy book to read, even though it dealt with a subject that was indeed crucial, timely and weighty. Calvinism is the behemoth of Christian theology, being a system of truth that epitomises the teaching of Scripture. It has produced great works of theology, some very technical and verbose in nature. Yet here was a book looking at this system of truth that was easy to read and speaking straight to the heart with great warmth and even humour (yes humour).

However, it would be a mistake to think that this book dealt with Calvinism in a detached manner, somehow separated from the adherent to it. Indeed, this book seeks to penetrate the hearts of the adherents of Calvinism and to strike at the heart of the matter. This is not a book that somehow produces a barren formalism, rather it smashes through formalism and seeks the real Calvinism, one that comes from the inner person regenerated by the spirit of God and transforms the lives of those that profess it. It is a living Calvinism that this book seeks and challenges everything else that claims to be Calvinism, but yet has nothing of its soul. This book is a clarion call for a Calvinism that ignited the hearts of a Calvin, of a Spurgeon and of a Bunyan and desires a turning away from all that is not. I love Calvinism – it leads me to God and the way of life he wishes me to lead and live. This book reminds me of this and for that I am thankful to Him for allowing me to read it. It is as Dutcher describes it, the windscreen of truth that allows me to see God and how he wants me to live for Him.

Buy this book at Amazon:
http://www.amazon.com/Killing-Calvinism-Perfectly-Theology-ebook/dp/B0088PBC5G

Free Book: FreeClassicAudioBooks.com


The link below is to a website where you can download free audio books in formats for the iPod and mp3s.

There are many classics available for download including Treasure Island (R. L. Stevenson) and Huckleberry Finn (Mark Twain). The King James Bible is also there, as is Pilgrim’s Progress (John Bunyan).

So if you love reading, but are unable to read for some reason, perhaps an audio book is the way to go for a while.

For more visit:
http://freeclassicaudiobooks.com/

 

Ebooks: Not There Yet?


The following article Wired lists five reasons as to why ebooks are not there yet. I would say that ebooks will never be the same as traditional books and they probably are never meant to be the same. I would also say you should probably never expect them to be the same. Television is not the same as going to the movies and never will be. I think waiting for ebooks to be the same as traditional books is to ensure you never use ebooks all that much. Just my opinion.

There are some useful considerations in the five points raised in the article – but there are also some fairly ordinary ones also, which suggest to me a bias against ebooks from the start. Being concerned that ebooks don’t allow you to use them in home design – I mean, really??? If that is a major concern with ebooks – you have to be kidding.

Some years ago I never thought I would ever like ebooks – I love them now and I don’t even have an ebook reader (I use by laptop) at this stage. I can see myself buying one in the near future – that would make ebooks so much more convenient to me. I could read one on a bus or ferry, I could read at work without too many difficulties (in my breaks of course), etc.

How many books can I now own? For a bibliophile like me ebooks are a dream come true. I have well over 1000 traditional books and I will soon eclipse that number in ebooks – many of which are old and out of print works which are very precious to me. These brilliant old books are now so accessible to me and I can store them all in such a small place. Fantastic I say.

See the article mentioned above at:
http://www.wired.com/epicenter/2011/06/ebooks-not-there-yet/all/1