Booksellers bullish about the future
On the eve of the biggest literary release of the year, Inside Retail PREMIUM checked in with three business leaders from the big book retailers to see how business is faring and where the industry is headed.
Published 55 years after To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee’s unexpected second novel, Go Set A Watchman, this week brought booklovers back into stores – both physical and online.
Harper Collins announced that Go Set a Watchman has already sold 1.1 million copies in the US and Canada after one week on the shelves, the figure includes months of pre-orders. In Australia, Dymocks reported record sales of Go Set a Watchman, in the first two days after its release, outselling JK Rowling’s adult fiction title, A Casual Vacancy, released in 2012.
Prior to the release, the bosses of Dymocks, Bookworld and Booktopia all expected to see a spike in sales around the release of Lee’s long-awaited follow-up. However, their strategies to reach and retain these customers vary.
“A release as significant as this one radically impacts sales across the board,” Steve Cox, Dymocks MD, said. “For example, we have seen a big spike in demand for To Kill A Mockingbird alongside pre-orders for Go Set A Watchman, as booklovers want to remind themselves of their beloved characters before picking up the new release.”
Apart from strong short-term sales, any flow-on effect from a single book release is hard to quantify. However, a good book can re-establish an emotional connection to reading and affection for the bookstore.
“On an anecdotal basis, I think a phenomenon like this does remind people of the joys of reading and that books can be just as engaging – if not more – than a tablet or smartphone,” Cox said.
With 65 stores in Australia, the 136-year-old, family-owned franchise business is continuing to invest in and evolve its instore and digital offering. Cox said the business is preparing to do more with customer data to attract new customers to the brand, reduce churn of existing customers, and increase basket size and visitation.
“We see tremendous growth opportunities in the Australian market, and our well-read team are looking forward to the coming period, having just finalised a successful financial year.”
James Webber, CEO of online bookstores Bookworld and Angus & Robertson, said big releases are an opportunity to attract many new customers over different genres.
“Big releases are always around, and almost without exception every year has one or two,” he said. “Think Stephanie Myer, Dan Brown, Harry Potter and more recently Fifty Shades. So whilst [Go Set A Watchman] is hugely anticipated and delightfully received, it will be pretty much business as usual for the trade.”
Bookworld and Angus & Robertson online stores are owned by Penguin Random House Australia. The two online stores are not affiliated with any surviving physical Angus & Robertson stores. With some turbulent recent years now in the rear view mirror, Webber is bullish about the online bookstore’s future.
“Bookworld continues to take share from the large international players by not only offering low prices with a guarantee to beat Amazon, but also by delivering more books faster to Australian consumers than any other online retailer.”
Webber added that the lower Australian dollar is also helping Australian-based online retailers.
“It’s still a tough market place,” he said, “but the change in foreign exchange purchasing from local Australian book retailers, such as Bookworld, means it is often not only the cheapest option but also much faster and more secure than using overseas providers.”
eBook market matures
Another trend impacting the bookselling industry is the maturing of the eBook market. Webber said that, while sales of eBooks (through his company’s partnership with eReader, Kobo) continue to grow, they now do so at a much slower rate than they have in the past.
“The physical book is a long way from being dead and the market for both formats is beginning to stabilise,” Webber said. “Whilst we expect eBooks to continue to grow share in certain genres, such as romance and fiction, the strong growth we are seeing in non-fiction, particularly in health and cooking, is being led by physical books.”
Booktopia CEO, Tony Nash, added that global sales in eBooks are starting to plateau, but people are, “finding the right circumstances to read an e-version of a book”.
“eReading will continue to become part of the book sales landscape, but physical books are definitely here to stay in the long-term,” Nash said. “There’s no doubt about it.”
To be a serious player in the future of book retailing, businesses will have to offer a physical, electronic, and possibly even an audio, version of its books, Nash said.
“For those organisations like Google and Apple that don’t sell physical books, they really have limited their sales, and book selling will never be able to be a big part of their business. That’s why Booktopia and Amazon, who offer both, are really the types of organisations that will be able to service the book buying community.”
Business is soaring for Booktopia – Nash said the e-tailer is turning over $54 million in books, up from $39 million the previous year, and heading toward $73 million next year.
But don’t count on Nash rolling that impressive sales growth into establishing a bricks and mortar Booktopia store. “Very unlikely,” he said. “It’s all about online.”
This story first appeared in Inside Retail PREMIUM issue 2054.