Sarah Irving

I do things with words, mainly English and Arabic

Bookshops, Palestine 'solidarity', Andrew Bolt in court

Being petty bourgeois liberals, husband and I went to a discussion about the future of bookshops at the Wheeler Centre this evening. It probably didn’t tell me much I didn’t roughly know, but there were some interesting stats about the current state of the Australian book trade (which I obviously have a vested interested in) and a few international comparisons. The format was OK, if formulaic – a panel plus Q&A, with a discussion which might have engaged the audience more and been usefully informed by, for instance, some shows of hands on people’s book-buying habits.
Some of the information presented included:
– despite predictions of disaster the book sales situation in Australia is ‘bad but not as bad as people make out
– GST (the equivalent of VAT) is charged on books in Australia 2010;
– Au$1.26 billion in terrestrial sales, plus Au$300,000 in online overseas sales the value of books sales was down 4.3% but volume 0.4%, ie the volume of books sales has flattened out but the unit volume has gone down
– prediction that by 2012 25% of books sold in the USA could be ebooks
– publishers try to keep the prices of books under Au$30 because this is the ceiling for impulse buys

2010 sales figures (over 2009)
– chains: 50.3% of the market (-7.0%)
– discounters and department stores: 29.6% (-2.5%)
– independents 20.1% (-3.4%)

– US/UK – independent stores have been decimated by competing with the chains on price, in Australia they compete on service so their market share is actually up over 2009, even though the value of those sales has dropped;
– (I’d add to this that one thing that has really struck me about independent bookshops here is that they seem to take their events very seriously, certainly when compared to most of the British bookshops I’ve encountered. Small single-city chains like Glee and Readings have dedicated event organisers and have proper channels for publicising them. I guess one danger is that they end up with free riders who enjoy the events but then go and buy the books online. But maybe they pull in enough customers and build enough loyalty to offset that);
– Australians seem to increasingly be buying books online from overseas retailers, mainly Amazon and The Book Depository; it was pointed out that this doesn’t just do local shops out of sales, but publishers invest less in local markets if they’re not perceived as selling in them so less is invested in local writers. Also, although books are much cheaper when bought from overseas retailers, the costs of ‘free’ delivery are passed on through increased general postal charges.

This was the nice meeting I went to today. Earlier in the day I spoke at a horrifically bad Students for Palestine/FAMSY meeting. If I’d been a new Palestine sympathiser at that meeting I’d probably be organising settler solidarity benefits by now. And I (the real me, not a hypothetical new activist) am pretty ashamed of having been associated, by being one of the speakers at the event, with some of the stuff that was said. I will write this up later, but I need to think more about exactly what I want to say.

Much more enjoyable was watching the vile Andrew Bolt sweating on the witness stand in a Federal Court.

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