Cheap Books Or Surviving Business?

I recently posted about how Aussies can get great prices on books right now because the Aussie dollar and the US dollar are at around 1:1 for the first time. Chuck McKenzie, recently wrote about how cheap online stores are a real threat to bookshops. He cited my post in his own. Chuck’s a good friend of mine, a writer and makes his career as a bookseller, so there’s a good case to be made from his perspective and I certainly don’t take any offence that he would use my post to help back up his own position. He makes many good points that are worth considering.

Chuck’s points about the comparisons between online bookstores and the paralell importation issues are valid. Follow the links in Chuck’s post to learn more. Chuck says:

I’m not pissed off that people are buying online – I’m pissed off at the lack of balance, in that so many people – and, it must be said, so many of the same people who vigorously defended the rights of authors and publishers during the PI debacle – are now singing the praises of the online booksellers without apparently taking stock of what effect this shift in consumer behaviour will mean for traditional booksellers.

I’m rather torn on this subject. I want there to be traditional booksellers. I love bookshsops. I love the people that run bookshops. I’ve always dreamed of owning a bookshop, though I know it’s a pipe dream. But I also love cheap books, because that means I can afford to buy more. I love shopping online because I live in the country and the internet is like a massive mall right on my desk. I’m also a big fan of ebooks, Print-On-Demand as an alternate publishing model and so on. The face of publishing and book selling is changing. We’re moving into the future every day.

The problem is that these things are market driven. While I would love to support Australian stores by buying from them, if I can get two books for the price of one by going online, I probably will. I guess bookshops need to rise to the challenge and offer something the online stores can’t. If they can’t compete with pricing, they need something else to keep them viable. What that something else might be is anyone’s guess. But market forces will ensure that bookshops survive or die based on the services they offer. It would be great if it were different, but we can’t hold back progress, even if it kills things. Which is regularly does.

In my own case, my novels are published in the US. There’s no domestic Australian distribution. So the only way to get them is online. I have some copies here and am always happy to send out a signed copy to anyone that buys one, but it’ll cost them more than if they bought it from Amazon or Book Depository. Maybe having a signed copy is enough to warrant the extra expense on their part. I also sell them at cons and have books in a variety of bookstores that are generous enough to stock them for me. Chuck’s store is one of those and I’m extremely grateful to Chuck for helping me to shift books by making them available on Australian shelves.

You may remember the instore signing I did recently. That was at Chuck’s shop and it was excellent fun, we all sold some books and had a great time. I don’t want to see things like that stop. I don’t want Chuck’s career to get eaten by progress.

Perhaps it’s worth all of us stopping periodically to check before we buy a book. Maybe we should think about local business over price and try to help bookstores survive. But it’s not really our job to do that. We’re the consumers and we’ll be guided by the market and the prices. As a writer, I want as many bookstores as possible, because that should mean more sales for me. I can’t see bookstores ever disappearing completely. But while we wait for the shops to come up with ways to keep themselves going, maybe we should do all within our means to support them in the meantime.


This is a reprint from Alan Baxter‘s The Word.