Thursday, February 17, 2011

The day after

Borders filed for a Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the U.S., the private equity group that runs Borders — same name, these days only little relationship — & Angus & Robertson in Australia, & Borders & Whitcoulls in New Zealand, applied to be put into receivership.

Between them the book retailers operate about 260 stores and are believed to employ around 2,500 staff in Australia, New Zealand and Singapore. Borders expanded into Australia from the US in 1998, but the first Angus & Robertson bookshop opened in Sydney in 1886. Whitcoulls was formed in 1971 as a merger between Whitcombe & Tombs (founded 1888) & Coulls (founded 1871). There's an awful lot of history about to go down the gurgler.

One franchisee said "The book Companies also have to be held responsible for this collapse as they are selling books to Australia book stores at significantly higher prices than they do to the likes of Amazon and European and US bookstores. This is going to have a devastating impact in Australia if the chain is not acquired and is closed down."

The Australian Publishers Association claims allowing parallel imports of books — that is, allowing bookstores to bring books in from, say, the U.S. or the U.K., where the size of the market means they would be significantly cheaper, instead of being forced to buy the same locally-printed item at a higher price —would have had a far more damaging impact on the publishing industry than the collapse of Angus & Robertson and Borders.

"If you opened up the market then you would immediately see a depletion in the number of publishers and the offering from publishers into the market space," a spokeswoman said.

These days, with the $AU worth roughly the same as the $US, you'd be a fucking fool to buy popular fiction from a bookshop here. The department store chains generally sell at a 33% discount, & will often special new titles with even more off, which, when you allow for the cost of shipping & handling, brings those titles to parity with the U.S. price. Problem is, you can't always guarantee that the authors you like will appear in the limited range that the department stores carry; in a small place like Rockhampton, you also can't guarantee that they will make it onto the local bookshop — two stores, both Angus & Robertson — shelves; &, when they do, they're at exorbitant prices.

I bought the latest book by Norwegian crime writer Jo Nesbø at a department store the other day. Recommended retail price in Australia around $38, price at Big W $21.74. Discovered that I hadn't read the book that came before it so went looking on line. Hardback available from Amazon at $14.52 with p&h probably about $10. But would take some time to get to me so I looked it up at the Angus & Robertson on-line store. $15.95 plus, let's say, $6 postage. My thinking then was that if it's available from A & R on-line, then it might just be available at one of their local stores. It was. Price? $24.95. With the on-line store price, I'm guessing at least a markup of 50%, so the upper limit wholesale price would be $10. Which means that on the local shelves, I was looking at a markup of at least 150%. Thought about having an argument but passed. Bought the book because I really needed to read it before I read the one that came after. But a slight bitter taste accompanied my purchase.

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