First it was photo processing shops. Then independent music stores. Are bookshops the latest to be rolled by modern technology? With the news that the REDgroup company, which owns both Borders and Angus & Robertson bookshops, has gone into voluntary administration, what does this mean for book-buyers and for authors? Author Jessica Rudd writes:
“Fellow chick-flick devotees will recall the cinematic glory that was You’ve Got Mail.
For those of you who don’t, Meg Ryan, during a period of particularly cute hair, ran her late mother’s even cuter children’s bookshop when evil Tom Hanks moved to her hood and opened up an even eviler book megastore across the road. Evil megastore began to undercut cute shop with an impossible price point.
Meanwhile, anonymously, Meg and Tom strike up a bit of romance using the World Wide Web—a newish concept back in the day (1998). Dial-up. LOL.
One day, anonymous Meg tells anonymous Tom her business is in strife. Gallant anonymous Tom advises her to ‘go to the mattresses’ emanating from a lesser-known chick-flick called The Godfather.
Meg gathers her loyalists, arms them with placards and goes to the mattresses. Unfortunately, capitalism triumphs, customers cry, evil megastore sends cute shop to an early grave and Meg ends up on a mattress with Tom.
But hey, that was 1998.
There has been much scuttlebutt about the impact of the newest megastore in town. Its name is the interwebs and it’s bigger than 1998 could have imagined. It is the same fandangled World Wide Web that helped blossom Tom and Meg’s happily-ever-afterness and pundits reckon it has the power to kill the romance of bookshops worldwide.
Here’s why. We consumers don’t really like forking out more coin than is strictly necessary, do we? I certainly don’t. We like going to bookshops, but an increasing number of us are buying what we find in bookshops online because it’s cheaper, often significantly so.
Hardheads say, ‘well, that’s just the market—bookshops need to get with the times.’
But people, we are the market. As consumers, we need to think hard about the consequences of our offshore bargain buys. There might come a time when you won’t be able to touch a book until it has hit your letterbox. When going for coffee and browsing the shelves is no more. When going to the mattresses won’t save even the cutest of Megs. We need to decide if this is what we want.
Before you go, ‘well, she would say that,’ you should know that authors make the exact same amount for a book sold online than we do for a book sold in-store. I shit you not. So hear me out.
There is nothing wrong with buying online. There are heaps of Australian online booksellers doing an awesome job. Booktopia, for example, has fostered a gorgeous community of booklovers near and far who come together online.
As a writer, I want my work to be read by many. That’s why I have no problem with ebooks. I don’t read that way (new book smell—OMG) but that doesn’t mean others shouldn’t. It follows that more affordable books can only be an excellent thing.
Here’s where I bring it back to movies. Sometimes, when I’m travelling, I like to watch movies on my computer. I download them from iTunes. On lazy days I like to rent DVDs to view over Milo and ice-cream.
Then there are those nights when I feel like dinner and a film. The smell of popcorn. The choc-top stain in the worst position on your pants. The previews. The teenagers who can’t stop giggling. Seriously, stop giggling. The lights dimming. The handholding. The furtive passing of Maltesers. The snuggles when Meg finally realises she’s been messaging Tom. The buzz of sharing the experience of watching a film with people you don’t know and yet laughing, crying, gasping and awwwwwing in all the same spots.
If we only download, there’ll be no DVD shops. If we only hire DVDs, there’ll be no cinemas. It’s a bit more expensive than hiring or downloading, and it’s the same film, but I love the feeling of being at the movies, just like I love the feeling of being at a bookstore.
In my view, all bricks and mortar bookshops deserve our support—Meg’s AND Tom’s. I want my kids and grandkids to be able to hold my hand, walk into a bookshop, run their fingers along the spines and find one that lights them up.
Deciding to only buy online doesn’t only mean cheaper books; it means poorer communities.”
Where do you buy your books? What impact will the closure of Borders and Angus & Robertson have on you as a consumer and how do you think it will affect authors?