Muse by Craig Ranapia

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

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  • Matthew Poole,

    "beankruptcy". I'm sure it's just a typo, but I giggled all the same.
    Now I have to finish reading the rest of the post.

    Auckland • Since Mar 2007 • 4097 posts Report

  • Craig Ranapia, in reply to Matthew Poole,

    Grrr… Fixed -- along with the four other spulling irrors I'm sure you were just being polite in not pointing out. While laughing.

    Obviously, applying the riding crop of loving parental correction isn't working on my inner proof-reader. Bring out the gimp-wear!

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

  • Jackie Clark,

    I'm sad about it, but I don't honestly know when I last bought a book for myself. I'm such an insane library user - I guess because I read so fast, it would seem a waste to spend all that money on a book, only to finish it a couple of days later. Friends of mine buy books by the truckload, but prefer to use independent booksellers, and there's also the fact that people can often buy books from Amazon and get them shipped cheaper than actually buying the same book in NZ. If I do want to buy a book, I do tend to go in the smaller places. I'm much like you, Craig. I do like to go somewhere where the staff are nice, and they know their stuff inside and out.

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

  • BenWilson,

    I live in Auckland, and while deep discounting is nice, depth and range of stock being sold by knowledgeable and pleasant staff is better.

    Yup. My tastes are lowbrow, but not enough, it seems. Whitcoulls drove me back to public libraries. Once that floodgate reopened, the only thing I've purchased from Whitcoulls has been art supplies and children's books. Even then, decent art supplies shops were much better, and FFS if you don't stock more than 3 Mr Men books you've lost my son. They had a better selection of children's workbooks at the 2-dollar-shop. Once again, the library won.

    Indeed, I'm wondering if books on the internet might be the renaissance of public libraries. Not for e-books, but for all those times when people want real books, and a reasonably pleasant experience looking for them, possibly assisted by someone who has a clue about books. I've long since revised my opinion that paper and ink are on the way out. I just think owning them might be.

    ETA: snap, Jackie.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report

  • Craig Ranapia, in reply to Jackie Clark,

    Friends of mine buy books by the truckload, but prefer to use independent booksellers, and there’s also the fact that people can often buy books from Amazon and get them shipped cheaper than actually buying the same book in NZ.

    Or The Book Depository, whose world-wide free postage has been mentioned here more than once. Which is great as long as the British pound is reasonably favourable, but here's my fundamental issue with buying books on line: You can't appreciate a book as an object when all you've got is a cover scan. (I should go into bookstores with a pair of white gloves, because they are my tittie-bar.) And how do you browse on-line? Some of my best purchases -- and longest-lasting literary romances -- were a result of going into a store looking for one book, and stumbling (in one case literally) over another that I'd not even heard of.

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

  • Danielle,

    Luke, I am your father: I never go into meatspace bookshops (or music shops) any more unless I’m killing time. (Also, I just bought some children’s books by New Zealand authors, and it was actually cheaper to get them from overseas, even with shipping. That ain’t right.)

    ETA On the other hand, the last time I *was* killing time I randomly found a pictorial biography of Van Halen in a Rotorua bookshop, and it's probably given me more pleasure than any book I've owned in years. It may be the funniest book ever created - but I would never have bought it without flipping through the physical pages and being mesmerised by Diamond Dave.

    Charo World. Cuchi-cuchi!… • Since Nov 2006 • 3828 posts Report

  • Emma Hart,

    I am deeply ambivalent about this. My partner and I were in Whitcoulls once, talking to one of their staff, and afterwards I said to Karl, "You know, that guy should really be working in a bookshop."

    Borders, on the other hand, has the best sci-fi selection in Christchurch. Yes, way better than Scorpio Books, unfortunately. While I love me some independent bookshops in theory, my chances of finding what I'm after in Scorpio are vanishingly small now. If I want to do serious meat-space book-shopping, I go to Borders.

    But on the other hand, the thing I want WILL be available at The Book Depository, it'll be cheaper than I'd pay for it in a bookshop here, it'll ship for free by Royal Mail in less than a week... my love for bookshops is seriously tested.

    Also, Whitcoulls' "an e-book copy of this will cost you more than a print one" policy was... well, self-evident, I think.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4651 posts Report

  • octopusgrrl,

    I'm conflicted as well - I've used Whitcoulls online a couple of times this past year and was quite pleased with the available titles and service, but I rarely bother with their retail stores as I just find the lack of range depressing (although I admit to trawling the remainder bins from time to time!) Having spent time in Wgtn and Chch this past week exploring a number of bookshops, I've got to admit that apart from the "ooh shiny!" you get from browsing places such as Borders, Unity and Scorpio books, I rarely spend much money there, and I prefer the thrill of the hunt-n-gather of second-hand books. If I want something in particular I'll check out the best prices online ( and seem to be the best I've come across so far).

    Good friends of mine are converts to the Kindle, but I'm still holding out. I haven't got past that need for the tangible, and there's not many things (in my mind) as delicious as holding an unopened but long-awaited title in hot little hands :-) Then again, e-books do satisfy that instant gratification need of the long-term book addict...

    Dunedin • Since May 2009 • 33 posts Report

  • recordari,

    My two regulars, since I moved away from Unity Books for work, are Time Out and Baci in the Rialto building. I don’t think book shops are by any means dead, I just think that sustaining the levels of stock and large scale real-estate the mega-stores have/had is no longer commercially viable. Time Out is so good at getting books for you, not sure I can be bothered ordering to many myself off the Interwebz. Unless it’s a ‘hard to find’ one, which has been out of print for decades, and I don’t have time to rifle through the shelves of the actual Hard to Find’.

    Ahem. ‘enourage’. Near the end. Sorry.

    AUCKLAND • Since Dec 2009 • 2607 posts Report

  • Kumara Republic,

    I suspect it's both the Web and Darwinism. I'm not a bookworm, but I've developed a sense of literacy all the same, thanks to the Internet.

    Also, I made my last stationery purchases from specialist stockists like Warehouse Stationery and Gordon Harris (both on Wellington's Victoria St).

    On a related note, Dymocks was pretty specialist too, but got KO'ed by having the misfortune to be a late entrant to a crowded market.

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 5446 posts Report

  • Craig Ranapia, in reply to Kumara Republic,

    I suspect it’s both the Web and Darwinism. I’m not a bookworm, but I’ve developed a sense of literacy all the same, thanks to the Internet.

    A little from column A, a pinch from column B and add randomness to taste? Funny how much of life works out like that. :)

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

  • Stephen Judd,

    For me Unity (and when in Chch, Scorpio) are where I go when I want to buy a book, any book. For speculative purchases when I have a few $$$ burning a hole in my pocket. I can go and see my mate Toby and say "sell me a book" and he'll find something I will probably like.

    When I already know that I particularly want to own a particular book, I tend to pop in and see whether Unity has it, on the principles that a) there's value in having it *right now* and b) it's worth supporting them so I can have the pleasure of serendipitously discovering something there in the future. If Unity don't have it, I get it from the Book Depository.

    I don't use the library as much as I should. When I do it's usually for books that I don't see myself wanting to read more than once.

    I'm not privy to any secrets of the book trade, but I wonder if the troubles of the big chains are partly an own goal of business strategy. By trying to outcompete small shops on range and margin, they ended up stocking a lot of dross that couldn't be sold to anyone when the economy contracted. Eg, I have wandered through Borders' popup shop where they sell discount books, and jeez, they're mostly crap. Huge piles of dull cookbooks and trash novels that weren't bestsellers and coffee table books and property books that were badly timed and basically nothing that you'd want to to read except in a dentists' waiting room. Look at those big shops on Lambton Quay. The rent must be enormous and the stock is frankly not attractive. One of the things I really like about the classier small bookshops is that they seem to have better at picking which books they actually stock -- their hit rate per shelf seems better to me. As opposed to my experience of wandering Borders where the shelves are groaning with mediocrities.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 3122 posts Report

  • Tui Head,

    I have to agree with Emma that I'll miss Borders when it inevitably goes because it has a really excellent craft section and when I lived in Christchurch was easily the best for genre fiction. In Wellington I can supplement that with Arty Bee's, of course, and Minerva (the extremely shiny craft bookshop in upper Cuba), but there were still loads of books that it was either Borders or Internet.

    As a general rule, though, I'm not too sad, and if the various functions get split up well into independents (as opposed to going all to the internet, which I think would make New Zealand fiction an even-more-dicey-than-it-already-is proposition), I think that's an acceptable outcome. I'd love to hear from publishers how they feel about it but I doubt anyone wants to tell us!

    Te Whanganui-ā-Tara • Since Nov 2006 • 14 posts Report

  • Craig Ranapia, in reply to Tui Head,

    I’d love to hear from publishers how they feel about it but I doubt anyone wants to tell us!

    So would I, and the floor is open. But to be fair, from what I've picked up nobody is that sure how to react. It wasn't a surprise but most definitely a shock, if that makes any sense at all.

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

  • MikeE,

    Strangely enough - Real Groovy is my favorite bookshop in auckland.

    Washington DC • Since Nov 2006 • 138 posts Report

  • Lucy Stewart,

    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.

    Once I passed the age of, mmm, thirteen, Whitcoulls barely ever carried anything that I wanted to read - at least, that I couldn't get out at the library or secondhand. It certainly never had any newly-released books I wanted, outside of things like Harry Potter. Borders in Christchurch, on the other hand, never got close to passing on the "knowledgeable staff" front, but as Emma says, carries a decent genre collection. Though my favourite bookstore in NZ is still Arty Bee's in Wellington. Imported sci-fi AND secondhand books? Brilliant.

    The real problem is, of course, that books in NZ bookstores are more expensive than books from international online retailers - often even when you're paying a decent price for shipping. And there's usually a much better selection online. People who love books, and can afford them, will go there. Partly because of that, I think, Whitcoulls aimed very clearly at the bestseller-and-stationery market, and that's a market that will stop buying in a recession. And then where do you go?

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 2105 posts Report

  • Dismal Soyanz,

    but it strikes me as wistful thinking that there won’t be store closures and job losses

    Ah, Russell I didn't know you were a slash and burn kinda guy. :)

    I only go into Whitcoulls during the sales (anytime during the year) when I go looking for pressies for the bairns. I can't remember the last time I bought a book from them. In fact, I think my last non-birthday-related (Jesus' or otherwise) purchase I believe was Lotto. Borders is similar in terms of going looking for pressies but I do go in to browse, look at all the topics that I would read if I had more time, sigh and then scurry away. It may be a location specific thing but the Wellington Borders has a nicer layout and I think the attempt to make it feel more library-ish is deliberate. Whitcoulls is a department store and feels like it.

    Since the Whitcoulls group took over Borders in NZ, separate financial accounts for Borders NZ have not been available. WGL is now the NZ parent of Borders and a quick look at its last finaical accounts shows a company whose profit margin has shrunk significantly in the last year of reporting. In part this due to rising costs but I doubt it would have been helped by some of the financial wand waving that has gone on with A&R Whitcoulls.

    I have also noticed the refusal on Whitcoulls' part to participate on the interweb in a meaningful way. My book purchases these days are largely work/academic related and searching for one textbook found me at Whitcoull's online catalogue. The price was stunningly bad and I ended up buying from Amazon. The web may have impacted negatively on REDgroup but Whitcoulls looks to have engaged in cutting off its nose to spite its face. I haven't had reason to look for Border's online presence but I actually quite appreciate their regular email specials, even if I only take them up on an irregular basis. Overall, the impression I get is two quite different retail/distribution operations that have been lumped together financially - possibly to the detriment of the better one.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2010 • 310 posts Report

  • Craig Ranapia,

    Just gone live: audio of useful discussion on Nine to Noon with Noel Waite, author of Books for a Nation: The Whitcoulls Story and senior lecturer in print and design culture at Otago University; and Graham Beattie, former publisher and bookseller, who writes Beatties Book Blog.

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

  • Rob Hosking,

    This is a thoughtful take on it, from across the ditch, from author and blogger and killer of flatmates with felafels John Birmingham:

    I suspect his conclusion is right:

    The sort of high volume disposable fiction which is their stock in trade, will migrate almost entirely into electronic form over the next 10 years. Their other income streams, recorded music and video are already drying up. It doesn’t mean the end of the printed book. It just means printed books will be a much smaller segment of the market, and eventually much more of an elite item purchase.

    Can't think of when I last went in to Whitcoulls...oh yes, sparkly papery things for my daughter's birthday last April.

    South Roseneath • Since Nov 2006 • 830 posts Report

  • Sue,

    becuase i hate flying i always treat myself to a book or magazine from whitcoulls at the airport and they have a great jigsaw puzzle collection.

    For Craft books, borders are the only place I'm lucky enough to find them, normally i have to go online, and even then i try and go online with fishpond (even tho they are sometimes extremely patchy with deliveries) becuase it's nz based.

    but mostly i don't buy books becuase it's an expensive thing to do so i use the library.

    I wonder when all the ereader fankids will begin their joyful sequels that this is the death of the the book?

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 527 posts Report

  • Dismal Soyanz,

    oops - that should have been Craig - soz

    Wellington • Since Nov 2010 • 310 posts Report

  • Craig Ranapia, in reply to Rob Hosking,

    Thanks Rob - will link in post with hat tip.

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

  • Jackie Clark, in reply to recordari,

    My mother mostly buys her books, J, and she mostly uses Baci. Incidentally, the guy that owns it, if he still does, is a tremendous skin specialist. Used him for a couple of nasty growths.

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

  • Bart Janssen,

    depth and range of stock being sold by knowledgeable and pleasant staff is better


    Whitcoulls stopped stocking books and I stopped going there. Sure they had some picture books and some bestsellers, but if I wanted to find the books by say, a top SF author, Whitcoulls sure as hell didn't have them and couldn't get them for anything less than a small fortune. And heaven forbid I might want to browse through books to find something new and undiscovered because Whitcoulls stopped having those kind of books decades ago.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4461 posts Report

  • recordari, in reply to Jackie Clark,

    Really? I always thought he was an Author, not a doctor. Turns out he is both.

    AUCKLAND • Since Dec 2009 • 2607 posts Report

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