Thursday, 28 July 2016

A postcard from Sydney - John Dougherty

I'm on holiday in Sydney. And something I've noticed is: they have some fantastic bookshops here.

I popped into one of them - Better Read Than Dead, near my sister's house - and asked one of the staff a bit about the bookshop scene in Australia. This is what I found out:

There isn't a big chain dominating the market. There are some little indie chains; shops like Berkelouw (whose Rose Bay branch is pictured) have maybe 6 or more branches (in fact, a quick web search suggests 10), but they're still indie chains, with a single owner - a bit like Foyles in the UK, I think. There were one or two big chains some years back, but they went under during the financial crash.

You do get the occasional customer saying "I can get it cheaper on Amazon", but mostly people don't seem to mind paying proper prices for books - and 'proper prices' in Australia can be more than in the UK; one book I checked at random had a UK retail price of £12.99 but an Australian price of $35, which at current exchange rates works out at almost £20 (though of course the pound is weak at the moment).

Indie bookshops are thriving in the cities and doing well in medium-sized towns; they don't tend to exist in small-town Australia. The woman I spoke to told me that she does sometimes get customers visiting from the smaller towns who leave with an armful of books to keep them going till the next time.

Just as in the UK, there's an issue with supermarkets using bestselling books as loss-leaders - selling them below cost, at a price bookshops can't compete with.

But still, bookshops in Australia seem to be doing well. I asked my friendly interviewee what she attributed this to, and while there were a couple of connected factors - regular late opening hours, till around 9.00 or 10.00pm, for instance; or the events that they run - she put it down to one reason: the support of the community. Bookshops are valued here. People - readers - see their value and want to support them.

Any ideas how we can raise the perceived value of bookshops in the UK?


John's first poetry collection, Dinosaurs & Dinner-Ladies, illustrated by Tom Morgan-Jones, will be published in early August by Otter-Barry Books.

The latest in his Stinkbomb & Ketchup-Face series, illustrated by David Tazzyman and published by OUP, is Stinkbomb & Ketchup-Face and the Great Big Story Nickers.

First Draft, the author band featuring John, Jo Cotterill and Paul and Helen Stickland, will next be performing at the Just So Festival in August.


Katherine Roberts said...

That's interesting, John - do you know how this positive book-selling scene in Australia affects Australian authors? I enjoy Australian fiction, but have heard they rely on UK publishers and America to make a living.

Sue Bursztynski said...

If you're in Sydney I recommend Galaxy for SF and fantasy. I think it's part of Abby's so it's HUGE! If you get down to Melbourne, my favourite shop in the CBD is Collected Works, which does classics, poetry, history, biographies... I have a hard time leaving without buying something. It's run by an English gent - a poet - and his wife.

We used to have quite a few chains. Gone.

We do have local publishers, but it's a small population. You can't make a living out of writing. Really. You just can't. Education publishing does rely on the U.S. - the U.S. branches make all the decisions.

And if our Priductivity Commission has its way, with parallel imports, cheap overseas editions imported and U.S. style "fair use" our publishing industry will likely go under altogether.

catdownunder said...

They do rely on UK and US publishers Katherine - some of those publishers have offices here but essentially they are still UK and US publishers. Parallel importing is inevitable. It will happen.
But, if you get to Adelaide then do visit the best small bookshop in the country - Mostly Books at Mitcham! (It's my local and I love it.)