Sydney Morning Herald, Charlotte Harper, Clancy Yeates
June 14, 2011 - 1:50PM
President of the Australian Booksellers Association Jon Page, hits back at Minister's statement.
Booksellers' jaws dropped today upon hearing that federal Minister for Small Business Nick Sherry had predicted that online shopping would wipe out general bookstores within five years.
The minister said this morning he expected that only specialist players in capital cities would survive. After online competition helped trigger this year's collapse of Australia's biggest bookselling chain, Angus & Robertson, Senator Sherry said further growth in online sales was "inevitable".
The rise of e-books is a massive challenge for bookshops.
This would leave business owners exposed if they failed to adapt to the new environment, he said. "I think in five years, other than a few specialist booksellers in capital cities we will not see a bookstore, they will cease to exist," Senator Sherry said in Canberra today. Steve Belton, manager of the Paperchain Bookstore at Manuka, was taken aback to hear of the minister's remarks. "That's left me open-mouthed, I can't believe someone has said that," he said this afternoon. "I'm just astonished to hear that sort of comment. "As the Minister for Small Business, [such talk] is not really supporting small businesses." Mr Belton pointed out that an increase in online sales would not just affect bookshops. "You'd have to say it would affect just about any sort of shop, so why has he picked on bookshops?" he said. Australian Booksellers Association chief executive Joel Becker's initial response was similar. "I'm gobsmacked," he said. Mr Becker said he had written to the minister saying he was stunned to hear of the remarks. "It's an industry that's obviously going through changes, and we're responding to those changes by working out ways for even the smallest bookstores to go online and sell e-books; we've been doing it so far without any support from the government," he said. "We're getting ready to have National Bookshop Day in August, celebrating the role of the bookshop in the community and we just found his comments extraordinarily unhelpful. "I've asked him to explain them to me, and the rest of the sector for that matter." The Booksellers' Association's president, Jon Page, of Pages and Pages Booksellers at Mosman in Sydney, said 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." Mr Page said the Australian market differed greatly from those in the US and Britain. "The independents in Australia make up 20 per cent of the market, compared to the US where it's only 9 and in the UK less than 4 per cent. "That just shows the diversity and range of bookshops that are in Australia. "I think there's still a place for an independent that services their local community."