The internet has been blamed, mostly. In a mix of ebook and the Australian dollar pointing, most reports have blamed the rise of electronic books in popularity as well as the rise in Australia of consumers going overseas to purchase their books. I'm not actually going to disagree with that, though to be honest, I think it is more the latter than the former, but what has shocked me has been the way that everyone has simply accepted both statements, allowing for an air of blame towards the consumer to be laid. It is almost, by taking their money overseas, the Australian book buyer is being told they are a traitor, and that the death of these stores is their responsibility.
The truth is, however, that for the majority of Borders and Angus and Robertson stores, they have gotten what they deserve. In the last decade, the price of books in Australia has climbed, to such a point that it is not uncommon for you to pay thirty dollars for a paperback. Certainly, it is difficult, perhaps even impossible, to purchase a new release adult paperback for under twenty dollars. Even young adult titles are reaching that point, and I don't even want to discuss the cost of picture books and graphic novels, much less hardcovers. The truth is that book sellers, and to a degree mainstream publishers within the country, are gouging their reading audience. Is it any surprise then that with an Australia dollar that is on parity, or even better with the US dollar, that the consumer base of Australia has turned around and gone overseas? At the moment, it is in fact cheaper to buy a book from Amazon and pay the shipping, than it is to buy from the book depository and get it shipped to you for free. I mean, I have been considering buying The Atlas of Remote Islands by Judith Schalansky. It'll cost me nineteen dollars from amazon, not including shipping. It's a hardcover book. How much do you expect to pay here?
The simple economics of our times that were not addressed by the the stores was aided also by simply not serving their customers what they wanted. For the last few years, when I entered the local Borders around me, I was greeted by rows of bargain bins full of books I had no interest in, and then a very poor selection of back catalogue. Sure, I could buy a classic, but what if I was looking for the work of a particular author? At the time of JG Ballard's death, I could buy three or four of his books in Borders, hardly an indication of his body of work. It never did grow above that. Non-fiction was also pretty lousy, with a lot of what you'd call cash in the moment titles being tossed out that made me cringe, but anything that had a reputation or body of work to it, nowhere to be found. And independent press? Well, in Australia there has long been an issue with getting a distributor, but even those with were hard to find. If you queried about a book, the staff often did say that they could order it in for you, but it would be a six to eight week wait. In this day of internet bookstores and direct purchase from publishers, I can order the same book and have it myself within two from overseas, within days from within the country.
That doesn't even begin to discuss how my local Borders and Angus and Robertson did not support local authors and local presses or even the local community, thus establishing a rapport with the people who lived there. That's not true of all stores, I might add--a lot of people have mentioned that some of the franchise stores do this, and are actually doing quite well, but as a statement that applies to the majority of stores around, I am sure you can begin to see how it is not actually logical, but the right consumer choice, for the book buying public to go and look elsewhere for their books.
And that doesn't even begin to address ebooks, a consumer outlet that was served poorly to its customer base, if served at all.
There will be, I am sure, a lot of discussion about the fall of Redgroup, and how it is an indication of the industry itself, and how Death approaches upon his white horse, much in the way the music industry talked about Death a decade ago, but it is important to remember that Redgroup were providing a service, and that they were doing it poorly. I am an author and I want there to be bookstores and I want to support them, but I am also a consumer, and those stores were unable or unwilling to adapt to the changes in their customer base--and that fact only served to drive people further and further away.