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Meanland: The Evolution of the Bookshop

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In partnership with Meanjin and Overland, we continue this series in 2011. With Amazon.com, ebooks and print-on-demand, are we seeing the end of the traditional bookstore? Are we facing a new generation of readers free from a nostalgic attachment to retail space, or are our expectations of literary consumers too simplistic?

Jo Case, Chris Flynn, Michael Webster, Corrie Perkin and Sally Heath discuss the complex relationships that occur between writers, publishers, online bookstores, local retailers and readers. They also consider the way in which blockbuster purchases affect nascent Australian writers.

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Posted:

08 Apr 2011

Filmed on:

30 Mar 2011

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5 comments so far:

Jo Case makes an interesting secondary point about why the reading public should purchase books (and presumably other material) at the local bookstore - experience. Now I've walked into three local Readings bookstores and found the experience distasteful.
The sheer smugness and lack of customer service put me off purchasing any book locally and has given content to the concept of a 'luvvy' that I simply thought was a rhetorical device used by elitist right-wing punditry and politicians to justify attacks on anyone who had a scintilla of empathy for those who found themselves on the wrong side of a position taken up by them.
In my last foray into a Readings store (in Carlton) two weeks ago I and my partner waited and waited at the counter in order to find out the name of the author of Fire and Song and whether the store had stock of same. We were not acknowledged nor told how long we would have to wait to obtain an answer to both questions. I must say I took some pleasure in loudly stating that I would be purchasing the book online via Book Depository.
It's all very well for the luminaries like Rubbo to appeal to a sense of community as a counter to the natural urge of a consumer/reader to seek out the lowest price but if the point-of-sale staff can't employ rudimentary customer service skills all the goodwill generated by: employing struggling authors as book-buyers/sales staff, ploughing a percentage of profits into community initiatives and hosting Q & A sessions with admired authors will be for nought.

Noam
15 April at 03:49PM

As a follow-up to the above but from a more practical perspective. Why is it that I can purchase an electronic version of Fire and Song by Anna Lanyon on Amazon for US$10 and Bookish doesn't even carry the file?
I know, it's all about the price for the rights Allen & Unwin will charge for access to the digitial file but from a reader/customer standpoint it seems ridiculous that an Australian-owned bookstore does not carry an ebook written by an Australian, nay, even more embarrassingly, a Victorian-domiciled author. I mean really.

Noam
15 April at 04:21PM

I think that everyone on the panel, bar Chris Flynn, is kidding themselves. It is a matter of time and nothing more, before the majority of people buy hardcopy books online and then make the move to e-books. Whoever thinks that children's books are more stimulating in hard copy must not have seen a child read an e-book.
For individuals, price will always be an issue as will convenience. I can browse for books online at any time of night or day, be able to order an authors entire back catalogue and do it all without driving anywhere, and spend half the money I would in a physical store. I like physical bookstores, but there comes a point where I need to make practical decisions and how to get the best value for my hard earned.

I am not sure why there seems to be such a distinction between physical and electronic browsing. For my own experience I am just as able to experience the pleasure of 'discoverability' online as I am in store.

I watched this video because I am a reader and a book buyer. And I am worried that we all just kidding ourselves that book-buying habits will carry on as they always have, because of some mythical idea about the 'experience' of going to a bookstore. I think we are already speaking in nostalgic tones. I believe it is only a matter of time.

JOHNSON102
16 April at 03:38PM

I was interested in the figures presented by Michael Webster, revealing trends for indies - is there a way in which I would get a hold of his presentation? Much appreciated if you could help. Thank you, Analyst

Analyst
02 May at 02:37PM

While I enjoy browsing the shelves of my local bookshops, I also find just as many accidental discoveries while browsing online as there are many more titles than the local bookseller will stock. I do enjoy visiting bookshops but am yet to find it a place to have a conversation with staff or other buyers about books. Most people seem to be too busy browsing. I think supporters of bookshops probably need to accept the fact that the book landscape is drastically changing and unfortunately I doubt there's much that the small community who work in publishing and bookselling can do as the masses simply don't care.

Lesley
14 June at 06:14PM

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