Purchasing books online from overseas sources is a global issue for international publishers and not just restricted to New Zealand, according to Booksellers NZ CEO, Lincoln Gould, commenting on the recent announcement by Hachette NZ that they are restructuring their New Zealand operations because of a drop in New Zealand sales.
The global book industry, especially in the English speaking countries, has been in ferment in recent years as online selling and the advent of e-books have put enormous pressure on publishers.
The pressure is also on New Zealand booksellers. Publishers set the recommended retail price and sell to the bookstore at a discount that allows them a margin of profit. Bookstores don’t have to sell at the RRP, and discounting has become a very usual practice in recent years, reflecting the state of the economy and competition. But if bookshops discount books from the RRP they are of course cutting into their margin which adds to the pressure on covering costs. (Some retailers will sell at a premium to the RRP, but that is rare).
Because of the revolution in availability through the internet of either p-books or e-books and competition in price from overseas online retailers, the market has now become a buyers’ market, whether it is a reader buying from a bookstore or a bookstore buying from publishers.
Some publishers, but not all, have grasped this change in the market and work hard to support booksellers in a variety of ways to help them compete. The more they do that the better because if the bookseller is not selling, then they are also not buying from the publisher. However, most international publishers sell more to Amazon and Book Depository (now owned by Amazon) than they are ever likely to sell to all the bookshops in New Zealand put together. Thus, New Zealanders are never likely to see prices from their local bricks and mortar stores matching those that Amazon or Book Depository can command from publishers.
Publishers shouldn’t therefore blame bookshops for not buying the quantities they used to, when the publishers sell to Amazon and the like, at prices which often, would not be close to what they offer to local bookshops.
The restructuring and downsizing of the New Zealand presence by Harper Collins and Hachette is to be lamented, especially because of the effect on the people they employed. It will be a loss, too, for New Zealand authors as they will find the competition for local publishing decisions will heat up. With publishing houses closing their New Zealand units, publishing decisions may be more likely to go to Australian authors where the domestic sales might be 10,000 an title compared with 2,000 for a New Zealand author.
Of course it could be possible that with the cutting back of overheads and other costs in New Zealand, Australian based publishers may be able to drop prices. I mentioned that idea at a recent Australian book industry conference – didn’t even get a laugh.
New Zealand booksellers will not sit on their hands and cry. The change in the publishing landscape does in fact create opportunities – but that’s another story.
CEO – Booksellers NZ