Muse by Craig Ranapia


Shelf Life: The Dying Elephant in The Book Room?

Just between us, I don't think I'm the only culture vulture feeling rather conflicted about the news that REDgroup Retail - which owns New Zealand's Whitcoulls, Borders and Bennetts bookstores, as well as Australia's larget bookstore chain, Angus & Robertson - has gone into voluntary administration. (In unrelated news, nobody in the book trade is surprised that Borders in the US has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.)

It's too early to tell whether REDgroup Retail will even try to trade out of it, but it strikes me as wistful thinking that there won't be store closures and job losses.  That's a big part of why any schadenfreude on Muse will be in a minor key. Whitcoulls may have sucked in all kinds of ways -- not least the patchy customer service -- but taking any pleasure in people losing their jobs in a recession is 110-proof twatcockery.

I'll also throw it open to you for a more informed perspective on how this will affect published writers (you know the weirdos who actually write books), local publishing and other booksellers.  The comments are open, and anyone who'd like to submit a guest post is welcome to drop me a line.  (I'll also be updating links to reactions elsewhere, so all tips welcome.)

On the other hand, I honestly can't remember the last time I bought a full-list, non-sale book from Whitcoulls and Borders.  While teh eeevil interwebz is (predictably) being blamed, and online outfits beating the chains at their own no-margin game is a factor, that's nowhere near the whole story. All those think-pieces confidently predicting the death of the bricks-and-mortar-and-dead-trees bookshop stubbornly refuse to come true.  Everyone is struggling under the euphemistic "difficult retail environment" - and I don't know anyone in publishing or book retailing who won't tell you (quietly) that they're hanging on by their well-chewed finger nails.

As a consumer - and a Luddite one who doesn't have a credit card and still thinks the internet is for porn not shopping - the answer isa simpler expression of retailing Darwinianism, red inked in tooth and claw.  I live in Auckland, and while deep discounting is nice, depth and range of stock being sold by knowledgeable and pleasant staff is better.  Certainly worth paying a premium for. That's not just indie stores like Wellington and Auckland's Unity Books, though I strongly enourage Muse readers to patronise your local indie bookseller.  Dymocks and JB HiFi, in my experience, can pull it off too.

The personal touch and a human scale still matters. At least to me.

Thoughts? Did teh interwebz kill the retailing star?  Or is this free-market retailing Darwinism in action? Or none of the above?


  • Aussie writer John Birmingham has an interesting take from across the ditch. (H/T Rob Hosking in comments.)


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