Changes in the publishing scene in New Zealand are to be lamented – but don’t blame the booksellers

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.

Lincoln Gould

CEO – Booksellers NZ

5 thoughts on “Changes in the publishing scene in New Zealand are to be lamented – but don’t blame the booksellers

  1. NZ booksellers are dominated by big chains which focus on moving large volumes of overseas books, stationery, presents and greeting cards. If they stick to that model within 20 years they will follow the traditional publishers and film-processing stores into oblivion as kids replace their heavy school bags laden with paper books with tablets. There is a clear need for a new business model built around a digital future.
    What is obvious is that NZ booksellers need to think a lot more about digital bookshelves so they can sell titles (electronic or print on demand) without having to go to the expense and risk of carrying stock. That will also open the way for selling advertising space, ambiance ( coffee etc) and other forms of digital media (music and video). Booksellers NZ could definitely provide the market with a great service by working out some of the economics around technology prices to determine when these options become feasible.

  2. I agree with Peter King. Trying to find local online outlets to sell my indie published YA e-book Touchstone was very frustrating (I’ve already had nine books published by commercial publishers so I’m not a newbie). Finding that Paper Plus has listed the e-book with a link to the Kobo website was encouraging. And Wheelers is doing very well with its e-Platform. But on the whole, NZ booksellers need to be gearing up much faster to support local e-books – which is probably going to be the major development in the future, given the rapid disappearance of the local publishers.

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