Minister for Small Business Trolls Literary Industry

(Title courtesy of my business partner @duckaroy.)

This article appeared in The Age on Tuesday: http://www.theage.com.au/business/booksellers-outraged-over-ministers-predictions-20110614-1g15n.html

The tl;dr version is that Australia’s Minister for Small Business, Nick Sherry, “predicted that online shopping would wipe out general bookstores within five years.”

It caused suitable upset, since the Minister seemed to have singled out bookselling out of the many businesses affected by the changing face of modern retail.

Is he right, though? Jon Page, the Australian Bookseller’s Association President (@pnpbookseller) said:

@ebookish minister has demonstrated a distinct lack of understanding about the Australian book industry

I’m also pretty ignorant about the Australian book industry, though I know we have a much higher proportion of independent booksellers servicing the community than the US and UK.

I’m not sure what the Minister was referring to with ‘general bookstores’ – did he mean large chain retail shops such as the now-defunct Borders? It seems pretty clear to me as a reader and customer that there is no place for impersonal chain bookshops without any community integration, not with the cost of books at retail in Australia.

I see the next five years as a period of time in which the only surviving book shops are independent booksellers with a community focus, literary community hubs that happen to sell books.

Analogy time: people don’t go to their local pub to buy beer with a 50% or more markup, not when they can buy it more conveniently and cheaper elsewhere; they go for the community, and they go because they see themselves as a supporter of that identity, someone who goes to the pub and hangs with their friends.

I see future bookshops the same way. Why would anyone think ‘I need to buy a book?’ and then drive to a bookshop? Outside of edge cases where you are looking for a last minute gift, it doesn’t make sense in the modern world: the books are more expensive, and the range is smaller. No one will be going to bookshops just to buy books; you can order online and drink them at home. (I’m stretching the analogy a bit, here.)

However, if you go to a bookshop because it is a community hub for people who love books, or because you are sitting down for a coffee outside the bookshop, or you are writing your next novel in the bookshop…then you end up paying for the more expensive beer because that’s what you pay for beer in a…bookshop. And you’re a bookshop-beer buying person.

Ok, let’s end that analogy there before I hurt myself…

I see a future where everyone who is interested in books knows their ‘local’ – I’d love to see an advertising campaign like this to raise awareness for independent booksellers.

What’s your local? Mine is Riverbend Books (@RiverbendBooks).

So if you live in Australia, show your support; find your local bookshop: http://www.aba.org.au/index.php/find-a-bookshop