We woke to the news this morning that REDGroup, the Australian company which owns Whitcoulls and Borders bookshops in New Zealand, is in voluntary administration – not quite liquidation, but the situation probably raises the same questions and concerns from the general public. As a bookworm, my first reaction was one of shock. How could such a substantial and well-known supplier of books be in trouble? It doesn’t seem so long ago that Dymocks, an arguably better book retailer, also shut up shop in central Wellington. And, what does this mean for people who have gift vouchers – are they still valid?
My own personal reading journey has been constant throughout my lifetime. As an avid reader, I always have several books on the go and more ready ‘just in case’ I finish a book and am caught short without another to go on with. Although I love all things digital and have dabbled in apps which allow me to read books on my iPod touch, the ‘real thing’ is my first preference. Apart from the ‘curl up in bed with a book’ feel good factor, I prefer to read large amounts of text in print. However, I’m not much of a book buyer. I borrow books extensively from libraries (and friends), as the cost of feeding my reading addiction at ~$30-35 a time is simply not financially viable for me. I know I’m not the only person who feels this way. When comparing the cost of buying books in New Zealand compared to somewhere like the UK or US, it’s no wonder that bookworms turn to Amazon or The Book Depository, who can ship a book to your home for far cheaper than buying it from a local retailer (who may or may not have it in stock or even available in their catalogue). I have spoken to bookshop owners who agree that their business has been hurt by online trading and see it as a sign of the times.
Should traditional bookshops be more proactive in responding to consumer demand in order to maintain their place in the market? Think about it: a similar thing happened in the music industry with record and CD stores and chains going under after MP3s and suppliers like the iTunes store really took off. Sure, listening to music on my iPod does not give me the same experience as playing a CD or record on a stereo with surround sound, but I am able to make personal selections what I listen to and when from the comfort of my work desk. The same goes with buying books; book buyers have access to literally any book they want when shopping online and are not restricted to what is simply available in store.
So, although I am definitely sad at the potential demise of another book seller, I’m not overly surprised. Perhaps this is a sign that how we read has more of an influence on the book retail industry than what we read or whether we read at all?