The future of books — and Santa?

By Ken Perrott 18/02/2011 1


There have been three common reactions to the news that theREDgroup Retail — which owns New Zealand’s Whitcoulls, Borders and Bennetts bookstores, has gone into voluntary administration

(This news may not be as bad as it sounds as unlike receivership, the aim of administration is not to sell the business but to try to return it to viability).

1: Shock – what does this mean for book retail in New Zealand? This is a crisis!

2: So what? Whitcoulls’ customer service was poor. They were only pretending to be a book shop. Bring on internet purchases and eBooks. We may even see growth of the independent book sellers.

3: What’s going to happen to Santa? He’s been such an annual fixture on the Whitcoulls’ Queen Street building in Auckland.

Whatever the financial and customer service problems this move does seem to signal significant changes. Inevitably there will be staff losses and closure of at least some shops. But the interesting thing will be how the company accommodates the huge changes in book retailing currently underway globally.

Commenters have already pointed out the Borders and Whitcoulls had not reacted well to the growth in internet book purchasing. And they have been slow to accommodate growth in eBook sales. So any restructuring of these retail outlets will have to take into account the reality that the internet and digital book revolution provides customers with  an alternative of rapid access to almost any book in print or in digital format.

As a recent purchaser of an eBook Reader (see The joys of eBook readers — the Sony PRS-650 Touch) I hope this restructuring will facilitate the lifting of regional restrictions on eBook purchasing.

It’s hard to know what the future of book retail in New Zealand is going to be like. In the last 25 years I have lived through similar upheavals in the music and photographic industries. I guess I have also lived through a similar transformation to digital in financial transactions.

I used to enjoy browsing through records and CDs in music shops. Just as I enjoy browsing through the merchandise in bookshops.

That might change in future. But I will still have the pleasure of browsing through the bottles in a wine shop.

Can’t seen them making that digital.

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One Response to “The future of books — and Santa?”

  • When we moved to NZ from the states nine years ago, I was aghast at the price of new books here – even the second-hand ones were more expensive than I expected. I still love the Book. I don’t have an eReader yet, but I will, mostly because we travel so much. Like many people these days, I buy most of my books online and they often cheaper come from abroad – from places like Amazon/Amazon Marketplace, BetterWorldBooks (even Fishpond.co.nz gets decent deals), etc. Even with the shipping (from BWBs it’s free for so many of the books), the price is far less expensive. Also, I get my pic of all the books out there. Yes, I love nothing better than browsing through a bookstore – one of my favorite smells is new book smell (and freshly baked chocolate chip cookies), but with the amount of books I like to buy for my library, the cost would beggar me.

    The US Postal service had this thing called an M-bag – 60lbs of books for 20something US dollars – sent here – on a ship – eta 2 months at most. I used that for a long time. I ordered books, sent them to relatives or friends I would visit in the US, and then mailed them all back here. They discontinued it a few years ago and I’ve been so down about it. It was the best thing ever.

    I think the shipping costs already hampered NZ book retail beyond repair for a while.

    I will always be a reader, so who knows what the future will bring. Retailers are going to have to figure out how to move with the technology, or fail.