07/02/2018 - 15:28

Books aren’t back, they never left

07/02/2018 - 15:28

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WA book publishers, retailers and authors have adapted to the threat of digital disruption and shown there’s plenty of life in the business model.

Books aren’t back, they never left
Jane Fraser says book publishers and retailers have to work more collaboratively than ever before to compete against online offerings. Photo: Attila Csaszar

Fremantle Press chief executive Jane Fraser says the publishing landscape has undergone a dramatic change over the past decade, with small local players leveraging niche opportunities and community engagement to compete with online sales.

And despite reduced print runs since e-books disrupted the industry, the dire warnings about the demise of print have largely failed to eventuate, Ms Fraser told Business News.

The growth of e-book sales had slowed considerably in the past two to three years, she said, levelling out at about 20 per cent of book sales made by Fremantle Press.

“People are going back to print books,” Ms Fraser said.

The challenge today is competing against the likes of Amazon, The Book Depository and countless other online distributers of print.

Ms Fraser said publishers were innately linked to book retailers and the two groups had been working more collaboratively than ever before to differentiate themselves. 

“If book sellers can make their shops a place to come to and a community place where people want to talk about books and read books, that’s what’s really going to keep them in business and us in business,” she said.

Retailers also were available to provide valuable advice to publishers about what designs and books might or might not sell.

“What we (Fremantle Press) really do focus on is our point of difference, which is West Australian local writing,” Ms Fraser said.

Boffins Books co-owner Bill Liddelow said that, as an independent retailer, he had increased community engagement beyond the boundaries of his store in the past few years.

“We work a lot with people like the City of Perth Library in that beautiful new building in Hay Street; we do wonderful events with them, we do events down at the University Club at UWA,” Mr Liddelow told Business News.

“We have a partnership with Chamber of Commerce and Industry (of WA) for book breakfasts, which is really successful.

“These are some of the things we’ve found we need to do to keep competitive because we can’t compete on price.

“The other thing we have to do to compete is really curate our stock.”

Mr Liddelow said it was important to create a retail experience that encouraged people to return to the store, despite the fact some customers only browsed the stock on his shelves and then purchased online.

He said one positive impact of online competitors, however, was they had pushed out a number of chain retailers over the years.

“We (independents) have probably benefited from less competition from the chains and people’s desire to want to buy books brick-and-mortar style,” Mr Liddelow said.

“The independent bookshops are largely doing reasonably well, or well.”

Mr Liddelow told Business News Boffins Books’ sales for 2017 were slighter down on 2016, but he attributed that to the local economy.

After the initial hit to the industry in about 2010 with the introduction of e-books, Boffins Books had grown by more than 10 per cent each year from 2014-16, which he believed stemmed from his efforts to differentiate his business.

Margaret River Press publisher and director Caroline Wood said she was engaging in low-cost but creative marketing efforts to attract attention.

“We do a lot of social media and little videos and interviews with authors,” she said.

“We have a book coming up where we’ve put a playlist together and we use Instagram.

“For the last couple of years I have used a publicist based in Sydney because the Nullarbor is a great divide for West Australian publishers.”

Non-fiction books with high-quality photography, such as wine or surfing books, were the easiest product for Margaret River Press to sell, Ms Wood said, because she could market them to a niche audience.

Ms Wood told Business News while publishers had changed the way they operated, she believed authors had to adjust more so, in terms of how they reached their audience.

“Authors have had such a big role to play in terms of their relationship with different bookshops and their readership,” she said.

Ms Wood said she believed many publishers would be checking authors’ profiles before signing with them to see how outgoing they were and the extent of their Instagram presence.

Literary agent Clive Newman said authors were increasingly self-publishing their work, especially as people became more proficient with social media marketing.

However, Mr Newman believed going through a traditional publisher was still the best route, for both quality and marketing benefits.

For every self-publisher success story there were millions of authors who hadn’t made it, he said.

Mr Newman said the best means for authors, publishers and retailers to differentiate themselves today was to focus on a niche or specialisation.

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