The big book bust

Article by Lauren Rosewarne /
ABC The Drum /
February 18, 2011 /

Click here to view original /

Like so many of those frappucino-peddling victims of the GFC, this week it’s all about the doors of Borders stores banging shut. Hardback-style.

Party popper time for readers? For writers? Quite possibly.

Truth be told, there are things I quite like about the mall. About department stores. About mega bookstores. Notably, I like the anonymity. I like going in and not being pounced upon. About browsing without being trailed after. I like being able to reject goods with gay abandon. And I like being left alone.

When it comes to books the lure of the megastore is even clearer.

Not only did stores like Borders facilitate my fetish for browsing and ambling, but they encouraged it. What, with their coffee shops and armchairs and all. (Cue footage of the repo man wheeling out the recliner).

Amongst all the e-tailing scare-mongering of that unforgivably foul-mouthed Gerry Harvey, an interesting aspect of consumer behaviour was showcased. Not only will many of us readily buy online, but we’ll pop into the physical stores, sit on their couches, put thumb prints on their princely-priced tomes and waste the time of their staff. And then promptly go home, put on our pyjamas, whip out the credit card and buy it all online.

In the You’ve Got Mail days of the late 90s, long before online retailing really hit its stride, the biggest threat of the mega bookstore was its impact on the Mom and Pop shoppers. You know, the ones where you’d get quirky recommendations, where you’d pay a bit extra to hear about how that sweet young lass who walked in the store last summer is faring. You know, the store where you’d choose not to purchase your erotic literature for fear of outing yourself as a perv.

Nowadays and with the plights of Meg Ryan’s Kathleen Kelly relegated to long – and thankfully forgotten – cinema history, we can forget the mall merchants. It’s now all about e-store and the warehouse.

For both writers and readers, with the mega bookstore the threat was choice decline. In my case, not an unreasonable fear.

Thus far most of my creative output has been non-fiction. Not the stuff that moves in a James Patterson, JK Rowling kind of way. Certainly not the kind of stuff they’d feel justified stocking on shelf space.

My third book comes out in April. Pre-order through Borders and the price barely scrapes in under $100. More with postage. Amazon or Book Depository and it’s less than $45.

It would never have been worth it for the megastores to stock “obscure” titles like mine. They’re chockfull of big-press output. Which makes, of course, perfect retail sense. The big authors are signed with the big houses and the megastores rely on big turnover.

As a writer I have uncharacteristic faith that stores closures and online shopping and change is afoot.

Prices aside and I’m thinking that online and the temptation of that table stacked ceiling-high with the latest John Grisham is gone. No doubt the e-tailers will still spotlight the Grisham wares – rightly so – but with physical stores having to cost every square centimetre of space, everything other than blockbusters were priced out of the market. I quite like that getting hold of those obscure titles through some Utah warehouse is nowadays no more difficult or cost prohibitive than buying off Oprah’s booklist.

Naïve? Maybe. And sure, I’ll probably miss their library of foreign magazines. Less likely however, will it be that I miss their attitude to peddling my wares or stocking my obscure literary penchants.

© Lauren Rosewarne