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No more bookshops?

20 June 2011

Australia breaks into the international publishing news less often than it should, but last week government minister Nick Sherry hit the headlines when he said: 'I think in five years, other than a few specialist booksellers in capital cities we will not see a bookstore, they will cease to exist.' He believes it is 'inevitable' that online shopping would wipe out general bookstores within five years, leaving only specialist shops in capital cities.

This brought a stream of opprobrium down on his head, especially since, as the Minister for Small Business, he is supposed to support them. Australian Booksellers' Association chief executive Joel Becker said: 'I'm gobsmacked... It's an industry that's obviously going through changes, and we're responding to those changes by working out ways for even the smallest bookstores to go online and sell e-books; we've been doing it so far without any support from the government.'

The Booksellers' Association's president, Jon Page, of Pages and Pages Booksellers at Mosman in Sydney, said the Minister had demonstrated 'a distinct lack of understanding about the Australian book industry'. He said the Australian market differed greatly from those in the US and Britain. 'The independents in Australia make up 20 per cent of the market, compared to the US where it's only 9 and in the UK less than 4 per cent.

That just shows the diversity and range of bookshops that are in Australia... I think there's still a place for an independent that services their local community.'

Let's all hope he's right and that the onward march of online bookselling will be halted soon.

Australian bookshops are among the most successful in the world. Australians buy more books per capita than any other English language country in the world. But the recession has affected the booksellers - 2010 was the first year in 10 years that book sales did not grow there.

But this was also the week in which the Australian bookselling chain Angus & Robertson has announced 42 store closures across Australia and has sacked more than 500 staff. It was part of REDgroup, which went into liquidation recently. The business will lose 116 full-time staff, 47 part-time staff and 266 casual staff, plus 90 from the REDgroup headquarters and warehouse. The remaining 48 franchise stores would continue to trade as normal.

This is indeed a terrible loss to the Australian bookselling community. Let's hope that the Minister is wrong and it is not a harbinger of worse to come.