or REAL BOOKS ARE BACK BIG TIME!
BAN THE GUTENBERG BIBLE or ARE REAL BOOKS BACK ? (Article) In these tough times as a ‚Äėbricks-and-mortar‚Äô bookseller, I sometimes feel like I should dress in a 15th century monk‚Äôs habit and wave placards with ‚ÄúThe Gutenberg Bible is NOT a REAL bible!‚ÄĚ, “Movable Type is the Work of the Devil!” or ¬†‚ÄúGutenberg puts 20,000 calligrapher monks out of work!‚ÄĚ
But then I reflect on the fact that in the book trade, we are used to change and we are used to tough times.
It‚Äôs been happening for while and we booksellers are a stubbornly sturdy breed.
The advent of the wireless, cinema, television, the computer and Space Invaders games were all seen as the Death of Books As We Know Them.
In 2011, the then Minister for Small Business Nick Sherry predicted that bookshops would ‚Äúcease to exist‚ÄĚ in five years.
Well, Minister Sherry is no longer with us, but Elizabeth‚Äôs Bookshops has just celebrated its 40th year in existence.
Of course the game has changed and perhaps the e-reader is as big a change as the Gutenberg Bible.
Perhaps we booksellers are in danger of becoming the jobless monks. In the case of many bookshops, including the big chains like Angus & Robertson and Borders as well as many fine small bookstores, that unfortunately has actually already happened.
But we need to see it in perspective:
As Stephen Fry said: ‚ÄúThe e-reader is no more a threat to books than the elevator is to stairs‚ÄĚ.
The e-reader‚Äôs impact on the Australian book market is below 10% and in the USA its growth is already leveling off significantly.
Yes, it has grabbed a significant market share from traditional books and that 10% loss can, and did, mean the end for many booksellers. However, I see the future as one where we share the book market:
Traditional books, or ‚Äėreal books‚Äô as we like to call them, and electronic books will each have their place. Maybe their percentages will change, but the Kindle will not kill the ‚Äėreal‚Äô book.
The appeal of ‚Äėreal‚Äô books over electronic books is essentially an aesthetic, sensual, tactile one.
Yes, they both constitute a book but the experience of reading one compared to the other is very different. One pleases the senses more, one is sometimes (but not always!) more convenient.
A roast beef dinner and a hamburger are both beef.
I happen to like hamburgers, but I am not going to give up my roast dinners!
Good local bookstores are relevant to the literature market in the sense that the customer is presented with a ‚Äėcurated‚Äô selection.
There are millions of titles out there ‚Äď a good bookseller will select those titles that he or she considers relevant to the local customer base. By and large, regular customers trust their local bookseller to make that initial choice for them in a professionally informed manner. As a book buyer, I don‚Äôt want to look at 1 million books ‚Äď I want to look at 500 good books.
—- The negative impact on ‚Äėbricks-and-mortar‚Äô bookshops by Amazon (who also own Book Depository but like to pretend that they don‚Äôt) is actually much more significant than the impact of e-readers.
Amazon‚Äôs market share is now apparently around double that of the e-reader.
This is an interesting phenomenon: People do actually prefer ‚Äėreal‚Äô books over e-books, but they ‚Äď understandably ‚Äď want them cheaper. In many ways, I can‚Äôt argue with that.
My only sustainable objection to the Amazon Empire gobbling up a large part of the book market is the fact that they do it in an unfair manner.
And they are aided and abetted in their efforts by an apathetic government and ‚Äď to some extent ‚Äď a public kept in the dark about the real practices of that multinational monster.
Once we learned about the appalling practices of the giant coffee conglomerates, many Australians switched to Fair Trade coffees to feed our caffeine addiction and are prepared to pay a bit more because it‚Äôs the right thing to do.
Well, I think it‚Äôs high time we turned away from Amazon!
Their practices are on par with the bad old days of the coffee empires.
Amazon exploits international tax loopholes, pays exploitative low wages in their domestic workplaces with slave labour conditions and is so strong that they can (and do) hold authors and publishers to ransom on prices.
In Australia, Amazon pays no tax and puts hundreds of people in the book trade out of work.
It‚Äôs a high price to pay for a cheaper book.
Whereas France has recently legislated to protect their retail book industry against the incursion of Amazon, Australia still happily allows Amazon free reign and does not even charge them the GST that the rest of us booksellers have to pay.
Yes, Australian booksellers would be much more financially viable with 0% domestic tax to pay, $8 an hour wages, 12 hour shifts, no GST and a doubled nett profit‚Ä¶
No, we are not suggesting that is what we are seeking!
(Except maybe the exemption of books from GST, as they are in almost all civilized countries including England). What Australian booksellers do seek and deserve is a level playing field from the government and a public with a Fair Trade attitude to books as well as their cappuccinos.
Local bookstores are an important part of the texture of a community and deserve the support of their communities.
As Neil Gaiman said: ‚ÄúA town isn’t a town without a bookstore. It may call itself a town, but unless it’s got a bookstore it knows it’s not fooling a soul.‚ÄĚ
As second-hand book dealers Elizabeth‚Äôs Bookshops are in a ‚Äėniche‚Äô market and we do, of course, therefore have the advantage of significantly lower prices.
Therefore we are somewhat shielded from the price comparison with Amazon.
Online book selling has certainly had a negative impact on our bookshops over the last few years, but we have managed to change to deal with it by working hard to sell greater volume and lowering our prices even further.
We now sell paperback novels for a lower price than we did in 1999 !
In response to e-books, we have responded by shifting our focus somewhat away from mass-market ‚Äėbestseller‚Äô fiction towards categories that are less impacted by e-books: Children‚Äôs books, Antiquarian and Collectable Books, Art, Cookbooks, etc.
These are book genres that simply do not lend themselves to being ‚ÄėKindled‚Äô without significant loss to their visual content and enjoyment and are proving more popular than ever.
We are also continuing to work on making the ‚Äėretail experience‚Äô of coming to Elizabeth‚Äôs more enjoyable than twiddling with a mouse on a mousepad:
We aim to have knowledgeable staff who genuinely know and love their books, we aim to give great service and we make sure we have an excellent range of stock.
Of course, second-hand bookselling is one of the last of the ‚Äėblack arts‚Äô‚Ä¶
At Elizabeth‚Äôs, we don‚Äôt just deal in titles or ISBN numbers.
We deal in tactile experiences, in look and feel and smell and sentiment.
Customers come in and stroke a fine set of the Complete Dickens.
They lift a polished Victorian leather bound book of Byron‚Äôs poetry, inhale its ancient scent and smile.
They are excited when they find the volume that completes their collection of an author‚Äôs First Editions. They weigh a brass bound Georgian family bible with inscriptions of a family that survived the Napoleonic Wars‚Ä¶
That is what we deal in.
And that you cannot find on your iPad or on the Amazon website.
—– In the long term, I am confident that the future of Elizabeth‚Äôs Bookshops is bright.
Just as local gourmet stores and coffee shops all over Australia have come back strongly from the near-death experience of having to survive McDonalds and Starbucks, so are local bookshops making a come back.
Anecdotal evidence from the USA (2-3 years ahead of us in this market) suggests that e-books may have ‚Äėflattened‚Äô: People are not as entranced by them as they were a few years ago.
Combined with what was apparently a positive Christmas in independent bookstores in America (and mirrored by Dymock‚Äôs Australia announcing the best pre-Christmas figures in many years), there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
This year, at Elizabeth‚Äôs Bookshops experienced an encouraging increase in sales over the previous Christmas.
So instead of a monk‚Äôs habit and a placard denouncing the evils of the Gutenberg Bible, I think I‚Äôll change to a new slogan:
‚ÄúReal Books are Back!‚ÄĚ