Bookshops are dead, says Nick Sherry


blog It’s hard to see how anyone who owns either an Amazon Kindle or an iPad right now can see any future at all for bricks and mortar bookshops, given the power and speed of instant global distribution over the Internet. After all, why would you actually prefer to waste your time going into a physical bookstore, paying more for the physical copy of a book you want, and then storing it on your shelf, when you could download a cheaper copy online instantly and read it on any of your devices?

Even die-hard readers such as yours truly (with my sizable sci-fi and fantasy library) have recently been converted to the eBook way. And, judging by comments he made in Canberra today, it appears Federal Small Business Minister Nick Sherry agrees. But not everyone else does. The Booksellers’ Association Jon Page, told the Sydney Morning Herald that:

“the minister had demonstrated ‘a distinct lack of understanding about the Australian book industry’. It seems he’d rather promote overseas businesses who do not collect much needed revenue than help the ones within his portfolio. “I doubt he’s even looked at any industry stats to make a remark like that.”

Of course, the booksellers could be right; their business model might not be based on an increasingly outdated distribution premise and last century’s technology. Or maybe … just maybe … a Federal politicial has finally got something right about technology. Let’s revisit this in five years and see, shall we?

Image credit: Amazon


  1. Having just got a kindle myself, I agree completely. I can’t see myself buying a paper book for myself ever again. I think public libraries will still be incredibly important though.

      • Although the run of the mill suburban public library may disappear eventually, I think on a city or national scale they will continue to be useful as a distribution point for physical and digital information that is not economic for commercial entities to carry. National libraries also have archives of original material that is valuable because it is the original and not because of the information it holds.

        • +1

          And having spent a little time working in a National Archives repository in Sydney last week, the sight of some of the stuff they’ve got in there would blow most people’s minds.

    • Nigel
      I have had a Kindle for some time and still find myself buying “dead tree” books as the range of contemporary books is limited. Just last week I had to buy three just published books because they were not available in digital form.
      And of course Amazon, with its restrictive trade practices, refuses to transmit some titles to Australia.

      • SLDR,
        It’s so easy to get all of Amazon’s catalogue though. Just enter *any* US address as your address, and you can buy any book on the catalogue. They are not as restrictive as Apple with iTunes where they match your credit card to the address.

          • Renai,

            One doesn’t have to lie. I have a PO Box in the US and gave Amazon that address for Kindle, and they happily deliver all books from the US Kindle store to my Kindle. If they did ship anything to me, it would be delivered to me by post.

            My point was Amazon do not appear to do address validation of credit cards like Apple do.

  2. As someone who works in the book industry I’d say Sherry is a little aggressive on his timetable, but yeah most bookshops are screwed.

    That said there’s still going to be demand for good bookshops for some time in the same way that there was a resurgence of demand for vinyl as digital downloads increased.

    I put places that only sell or rent DVD/blu-ray & CDs on the same sort of timetable. About 7-9 years.

  3. Second hand bookstores have legs in them yet. [I still go there]

    There’s something about the smell of turning an aged page.

    More or less I’m saying “over my dead body.” Granted all the oldies are dying, but they’re not dead yet!

    I’m not entirely an old fart – when there’s free internet at *every* airport I’ll stop buying the hideously overpriced hard copies … when I haven’t packed enough books *again*

  4. As much as I buy a lot of material on Kindle, I still buy many physical books too. Sometimes it’s a Kindle and physical version of the same book.

    There’s a very visceral, tanglible pleasure to be gained by curling up with a physical book. It’s all about the tactile experience.

    • … and how many people growing up with e-readers today do you think are going to ever have that nostalgic experience? None. And so in future, they will only see books as another form of content. It’s the content, not the medium, which is important here.

      • Oh, I agree, Renai. The reading of a physical book will over time, become a luxury or connoisseur experience. The things themselves will become more of a tradeable commodity than even antiquarian books are today.

        I have memories of an old ST:TNG ep where Picard discusses the tactile and collector pleasure of owning a physical book.

  5. I think the major book publishers will have no choice but to switch to eBooks in Australia. The market here is becoming dire what with bookshops closing and profitability disappearing. Many publishers are still stubbornly refusing the switch to eBooks but if we can not buy their physical books easily then either way they won’t make money.

  6. It may take 10 years but eventually books shop will drastically fall in numbers. I can’t see them dying out entirely. I still buy books because I want the physical item and some of the books I buy aren’t digital. I also want to see them on my shelf. Having the file on my drive isn’t the same thing. I won’t keep the book shops open though.

  7. I fearlessly predict that the Dymock’s Bookshop in George Street will shut down just after the paperless office comes to fruition, and slightly before it is converted to a teleport for flying cars.

  8. It is not ebooks that are causing the demise of book retail(although they are not helping) it is the same thing that is affecting all retail sectors. Wholesale cartels setting the price of goods well above what an international market can deliver. Book stores are feeling it the worst because of the success of Amazon.

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