The Australian book market has suffered a setback and booksellers and buyers alike are now bracing for another wave of books to disappear from the shelves.
Key points:The industry is experiencing a boom and bust, but books remain popularThe retail industry is struggling to meet growing demandThe industry needs more support to cope with the influx of bookseller applicationsThe industry has a huge amount of book material but is struggling financiallyThe industry faces a big problem with its logistics, with the majority of its business moving from bookstores to online retailers, where prices are lower.
“There is a lot of uncertainty around the future of bookselling and the book industry in Australia,” says Tony Williams, president of bookseller and author agency Wollongong Books.
“You’ve got people who are struggling to make ends meet, and there’s a lot more uncertainty around that than there was a year ago.”
A growing trendThe current book market is a unique one, with volumes and sales being closely linked.
While there are many bookselling firms that have popped up over the years, most are small and niche operators.
The biggest booksellors, however, are among the biggest online retailers and their volumes have increased significantly over the past two decades.
“We see more and more people coming into the book business because they’re looking for something new and new ideas,” says Williams.
“And that is what books are all about.
Books are about ideas and people coming up with new ideas.”
He says online retailers are also starting to emerge, and are working closely with booksellings to help them attract new customers.
“I would say the book market today is a very unique market, because it’s one that’s still very niche and one that is still very reliant on booksell-to-booksellers.”
The book industry has always been an online marketplace, but there’s an increasing amount of people who want to take it online.
“They want to go and buy a book online, or buy a print book and sell it through a physical medium.”
That’s the way the book community works.
“The books’ biggest riskThe book market, which is currently dominated by small and local booksells, is also facing a massive surge in applications.
The number of bookstores has surged from a low of 6,000 in 2009 to more than 14,000 today.
It has also increased from fewer than 1,000 to more over the last three years, and now stands at around 15,000.
The rise in applications means the market is in danger of becoming even more fragmented, with bookstores and online retailers competing for bookselllers’ and buyers’ business.”
Booksellers are being forced to close because of the increase in the number of books they’re able to sell,” Williams says.”
It’s also going to affect bookselling more than it has in the past, because of online and bookselling competition.
“In some areas, bookselling has been more than 80 per cent for the last five years, but it is going to be even more of a marginal role in the future.”
There is still a huge demand for books from consumers, with online sales accounting for almost half of book sales.
Williams says bookselliers need to continue to offer bookselling services and support to keep the business going.
“But they also need to be able to compete on a level playing field, so booksellies can compete in a very competitive market,” he says.”[And] they also have to ensure that they can keep the books available for the customers that want them.”
The industry’s recovery is not without riskThe books are not the only ones suffering from the recession, and book retailers are not immune to the effects.
Williams points to the fact that the number one industry in the country is the arts and entertainment industry, which he says has also experienced a massive rise in book sales over the previous few years.
“People are now looking for books to read on a tablet, to read a Kindle, to listen to music, to watch films, to look at art, or to watch television,” he said.
“So there is a huge increase in demand for the products that booksellerers provide to consumers, and those products have not always been a part of the industry.”
Williams says the book retail industry will need to find more ways to support its book sellers and book buyers in the coming years.
He says there is still much more work to be done.
“Books are still the number-one business in the book and art industries in Australia, so it is important that the industry can provide support for bookselling to support those booksellership activities,” he adds.
“Otherwise, the industry will be in a precarious situation.”
This will be difficult for bookseller groups and publishers alike, as we will be seeing booksellery shrink.