Muse by Craig Ranapia

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Muse: Shelf Life: The Dying Elephant in The Book Room?

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  • Robyn Gallagher,

    Thinking about where I buy books from, when I was in Auckland I'd wander down the road to Time Out, and in Wellington I go to Unity. Both places have great atmosphere, smart staff and are just nice places to experience.

    Whitcoulls has always felt like a variety store with a large book section, rather then a dedicated bookshop. And - like John Birmingham notes in his blog post - Borders used to have an amazing range when they first opened, but now it's the same old vampires, cookbooks, and a gaping hole where the CD department used to be.

    While the current Whitcoulls doesn't really do much for me, it's such a strong New Zealand brand that I'd hate to see it die. I hope it can be reborn as a good bookshop/stationer.

    But in other news, lately I've been very seriously considering acquiring an e-reader. Buying books - especially the sort that I never reread - is starting to feel wasteful.

    Raglan • Since Nov 2006 • 1946 posts Report Reply

  • webweaver,

    Although I, too, don't want to see more people lose their jobs, I still blame Borders for causing the demise of Dymocks in Wellington, so from that perspective I'm feeling slightly schadenfreudish at the moment.

    These days I do Unity Books for new novels (because they love books) and Arty Bees for old books (because they love books) and Whitcoulls for wrapping paper, the odd birthday card and puzzle magazines. No books. They don't love books. And Borders not at all (for the aforementioned reason).

    For any tech book or specialist title of any kind there is NO WAY I would buy a book from any New Zealand book store because they are insanely expensive.

    I Just compared Information is Beautiful (David McCandless - awesome Webstock presentation) from various sources (all prices calculated in NZ$):

    Amazon US (but it's out of stock) - $21.42 + p&p
    Amazon UK - $21.92 + free p&p
    Book Depository - $31.19 + free p&p
    Good Books - $42.61 incl p&p
    Whitcoulls - $64.95
    Borders - website's down so I can't check.

    Basically it costs around three times the price to buy a tech book in NZ as it does to buy it in the UK and get it shipped here. Much as I'd like to support NZ businesses, I cannot justify that amount of extra moolah every time I want to buy a web book.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 332 posts Report Reply

  • Lucy Stewart, in reply to webweaver,

    Basically it costs around three times the price to buy a tech book in NZ as it does to buy it in the UK and get it shipped here.

    Fiction is bad enough in NZ, but technical books are insane. Whenever we went to Borders, my partner would always go and drool a little at the software and security books, but never buy - some of them were more than we were paying for a week's rent. Cornered market, I guess, but...sheesh.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 2105 posts Report Reply

  • Emily Perkins, in reply to giovanni tiso,

    "I don’t think bookstores will survive thanks to engaged consumers. They will survive by providing smart readers with a service that cheaper online depositories can’t match. Whitcoulls hasn’t been doing that, and frankly it’s not technology’s fault."

    I don't think what I'm arguing for is incompatible with this point. Engaged consumers might not simply be buyers of the physical book. Some bookshops (and writers through other venues) are offering readers/customers/listeners different ways of engaging with story-telling, poetry, the word, in a development nudged along by technology that I really welcome. Because the way we read and buy books is changing, writers are learning to communicate in different ways and some of the things we've been involved in recently (Book Council events, the OGB) have moved that writer/reader public relationship way past the trad. lit fest model. It's a return to personal community interaction that is growing precisely because it's in contrast to the other changing ways we read. I love it. And I think that's part of the service/artistic practice writers, booksellers and event curators can offer. Whether this is taken up by readers and listeners in a way that enables our survival remains to be seen.

    There'll always be other demands on our budgets. I'm suggesting that people who love reading (or music, or whatever) take a long view - and that our economic choices and responses shape our culture.

    Auckland • Since Feb 2011 • 5 posts Report Reply

  • Christopher Dempsey, in reply to Lucy Stewart,

    The Tech Books store on Broadway in Newmarket is a good 'indie' store that's entirely focussed on technical books. Prices are well, sticker shock, but I suppose if you really want that in-depth technical book about baking bread, or repairing your 1970 Marino, you'll pay, as you'll mostly get your money's worth out of it.

    They do have sales from time to time, so it's worth keeping an eye out for these.

    Parnell / Tamaki-Auckland… • Since Sep 2008 • 659 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    Yup. Red Group Retail has debts of $50-75 million and breached banking covenants back in July. Of $25 million in annual earnings, $9 million went on debt servicing. Sheesh.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22850 posts Report Reply

  • recordari,

    ThreadJack.

    Where’s the music thread when you need one? Radiohead slipped out their latest release overnight The King of Limbs. I’m sure there will be many ‘mehs’ going round, but I’m such a TY geek, he could fart on record and I’d buy it. Which is just as well. As always I suspect that after the 100th listen, and if possible while travelling on trains in Tokyo while listening to it on headphones, it will sink in.

    So far it sounds like stuff that didn’t fit on Thom Yorke’s The Eraser, but I do like this video and the song that goes with it.

    AUCKLAND • Since Dec 2009 • 2607 posts Report Reply

  • Carol Stewart, in reply to jessica scott,

    You're right, Jessica. The Island Bay Stationers is a wee gem, particularly for picture books. We used to go there a lot when my lad was younger and we'd often find offbeat and wonderful things. The owner really knows her stock well too.

    I am very fond of both Unity Books and the Children's Bookshop in Kilbirnie

    +3 for the family bookworms.

    Wellington • Since Jul 2008 • 830 posts Report Reply

  • giovanni tiso, in reply to Emily Perkins,

    It's a return to personal community interaction that is growing precisely because it's in contrast to the other changing ways we read... Whether this is taken up by readers and listeners in a way that enables our survival remains to be seen.

    You mean whether readers and listeners will be willing to pay? I don't really know how I feel about this. If it's something like your performance with Dylan Horrocks, yes, please let's have more of those, but the flip side are events like, say, the Gaiman town hall appearance last year in Wellington, which puzzled me greatly. I get that he is a popular and charming guy, and I get that people are curious about aspects of his work and he's not shy to answer their questions, but if it's something that becomes expected of authors, that they are extremely personable self-promoters, that troubles me a little bit. It's a very different skillset from being a good writer - not saying that one can't be both, but I'd like us to be able to look out for those who are just bloody good writers.

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7473 posts Report Reply

  • Kumara Republic,

    Heard the interview with the Piratebay's Peter Sunde on NatRad this morning. He was speaking about his latest project, Flattr, which seems to point a way forward for the future of royalty payments. Although he was referring to film and music, the same can easily apply to books.

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 5445 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia, in reply to Christopher Dempsey,

    The Tech Books store on Broadway in Newmarket is a good 'indie' store that's entirely focussed on technical books.

    So here's a question for my tasty Brains Trust - is there a future for the general bookseller (a bit of everything and pulling digit from rectum when it comes to ordering stuff in) or is 'narrowcasting' -- because there's been a run of venerable specialist mystery/SF/GLBT indie closures in the US and UK over the last five years or so

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Carol Stewart, in reply to giovanni tiso,

    Very well said, sir.
    This from High Tide in Tucson by Barbara Kingsolver:

    Why isn't the author's written word enough? Why must she follow her book out into the world like an anxious mother, to hold its hand and vouch for its character? Why, for that matter, is a book more desirable when it has the author's signature on the flyleaf? .. Certainly I would go along peacefully with the book tour concept if it were only a matter of my own temporarily disturbed life. But in principle it's an industry trend that worries me. Celebritisation of authors rivets the nation's attention on a handful of books each hear, shutting out diversity, leaving poets and first novelists to huddle in the cold with the masses of nonfiction scholars whose subject matter is more vital than it is sexy.
    Readers do need help, of course, in selecting among all the many deserving titles - but what criteria that could possibly fit in a fifty-eight second TV spot will guide them to an informed choice? The quality of a book's prose means nothing in this race. What will win it a mass audience is the author's ability to travel, dazzle, stake out name recognition, hold up under pressure, look good and be witty - qualities unrelated, in fact, to good writing, and a lifestyle that's writing's pure nemesis.
    What of the brilliant wordsmiths who happen to be elderly, disabled, or indisposed to travel because of young children, or not so great looking, or terribly shy? What are we doing here to the future of literature? Where would be be now if our whole literary tradition were built upon approximately the same precepts as the Miss America competition?

    Wellington • Since Jul 2008 • 830 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to recordari,

    I’m such a TY geek, he could fart on record and I’d buy it

    Yep

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19745 posts Report Reply

  • recordari, in reply to Sacha,

    Yep

    Dude, that was quick. I’m dying a little inside now, just so you know. ;-<

    This from High Tide in Tucson by Barbara Kingsolver:

    Also very well put. Where would we be if only celebrity authors made it onto the shelves of bookstores? Oh, in Whitcoulls. As you were.

    AUCKLAND • Since Dec 2009 • 2607 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha,

    Virtual book tours seem to be the new way. Read a great article by an author comparing the traditional road trip and the new online option, but can't find it.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19745 posts Report Reply

  • Jackie Clark, in reply to Sacha,

    Excuse me, both of you. Shouldn't you be getting ready to go somewhere?

    Mt Eden, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3136 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Jackie Clark,

    Yep - slow start

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19745 posts Report Reply

  • recordari, in reply to Jackie Clark,

    Made the hummus already. Will saddle up the ponies soon, honest.

    AUCKLAND • Since Dec 2009 • 2607 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    Yup. Red Group Retail has debts of $50-75 million and breached banking covenants back in July. Of $25 million in annual earnings, $9 million went on debt servicing. Sheesh.

    That's not a very long term financial model is it? I'm mortgaged up the wazoo and I don't pay that % of my income in debt servicing, and I'm not in a competitive market where my income isn't guaranteed.

    Since Nov 2006 • 6243 posts Report Reply

  • Time Out Bookstore, in reply to James Butler,

    Hi, it's Jonathan from Time Out. Just want to clear up this alarming quote:

    I also love Time Out books, and their children’s section is nice, except when you can smell dope smoke drifting in from the back room; it’s kinda amusing I guess, but not when I have my children with me. To be fair, it hasn’t happened recently.

    Our room for children's books is at the back of the store; beyond it lies the car park (shared with several other businesses), which has nothing to do with us. I've been working here for nearly seven years and the only thing I've ever smelt in the kids room is the bacon they're cooking at Fraser's next door.

    I don't mean to make a big deal out of it but at this point we can't really let bad press pass unnoticed.

    Auckland • Since Feb 2011 • 1 posts Report Reply

  • Emily Perkins, in reply to giovanni tiso,

    Yeah, I'm not talking about standard author-reading-from-published-work events, though god knows they are a reality of now & many people enjoy them. Most writers I know agree that book promotion eats horribly into writing time etc, even as the benefits of meeting readers are great. And I take B. Kingsolver's concerns seriously too - but that's not what I mean. I'm talking about a different way of connecting. Venues & ideas that give rise to new writing / reading / speaking / listening forms. The OGB last year was a good example of that for me.

    Auckland • Since Feb 2011 • 5 posts Report Reply

  • giovanni tiso, in reply to Emily Perkins,

    I'm talking about a different way of connecting. Venues & ideas that give rise to new writing / reading / speaking / listening forms. The OGB last year was a good example of that for me.

    Are we still talking about the viability of bookshops though, or have we moved on to writers and publishers? Unity Books would be a little stretched hosting a great blend.

    (That said, there is obviously a very long tradition of bookshops serving as social and cultural venues - in terms of the two examples that I'm aware of I'm unsure that it helped their bottom line very much at all.)

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7473 posts Report Reply

  • Emily Perkins, in reply to giovanni tiso,

    Unity are often the booksellers on the scene at such events. I don't know how it works for them, but they seem committed, so assume there are some good results.

    In-person contact between writers & readers is one development; something like Cursor's publishing model is another, http://thinkcursor.com/ and booksellers are part of the picture.

    If I'm trying to say anything, it's - cliche alert - that we're in a golden age for readers, & a kind of freaky and potentially rewarding time for writers, publishers, book retailers etc, and good content needs to be supported. If or how it's going to be supported is what we're all in the process of finding out. At least we're awake.

    Auckland • Since Feb 2011 • 5 posts Report Reply

  • Rich Lock, in reply to jessica scott,

    'The Bad Baby and the Elephant'

    I've been trying to remember the title of this book for the last two weeks!

    Thanks for that.

    'He never once said please....'

    back in the mother countr… • Since Feb 2007 • 2728 posts Report Reply

  • James Butler, in reply to Time Out Bookstore,

    My apologies* - for some reason I thought there was a further back room. Perhaps your neighbours don't have customer-accessible rooms at the back, and are thus less circumspect than they might be? I am a great fan of your shop.

    * Saying this a lot lately :-(

    Auckland • Since Jan 2009 • 856 posts Report Reply

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