Booksellers are cautiously watching any moves made by Amazon’s subsidiary, The Book Depository. Last week The Book Depository made clear its intention to focus on the Australian market by adding 25,000 titles by Australian authors to its catalogue and using a third-party logistics company in Melbourne to pack and ship products locally. Australia’s biggest pureplay book retailer, Booktopia, pre-empted The Book Depository’s announcement, reaching out to media with the message: we’re
ready to take on Amazon. Booktopia.com.au, which retains 83 per cent market share of all online book sales in Australia, excluding overseas retailers, said it had been preparing to rival the e-commerce giant on Australian soil for the past 12 years. Booktopia has grown by 30-40 per cent growth annually since launching in 2004 and has no intention of slowing down, according to CEO Tony Nash. Last year Booktopia acquired Angus & Robertson Bookworld and in FY2016 is aiming to deliver more than $80 million in revenue, up from $52 million in FY2015. Booktopia has hired Investec as its corporate advisor to conduct a strategic review of options, which includes considering a potential IPO in 2016. Booktopia also confirmed to Inside Retail Weekly that there would be no change in pricing policy in response to The Book Depository’s announcement. Despite Booktopia’s bullish outlook, booksellers are cautiously watching any moves made by The Book Depository which could unsettle an industry that is once again showing positive signs, including increasing sales and store numbers, following a tumultuous period which included the collapse of REDGroup in 2011. Joel Becker, CEO Australian Booksellers Association, said it was too early to tell what level of impact The Book Depository would have on the Australian market. However he raised concerns the British retailer, which was acquired by Amazon in 2011, was prepared to heavily discount and operate a loss leader strategy to attract customers. “They [The Book Depository] engage in a lot of the practices that Amazon does, which means that they are prepared to sell books at a loss to gain market share. Which is a big concern for us – it means that they operate in an anti-competitive manner,” Becker told Inside Retail Weekly. Becker said the industry has been impacted positively in the last 18 months to two years by trends such as a resurgence in shopping locally and supply chain improvements. “The improvements in information technologies means that local booksellers have access to a massive range of titles that they can get in a matter of days, so the supply chain has dramatically improved in the last few years,” Becker said. Another positive sign for the industry was highlighted in new research released last week that showed after several years of decline, 2015 was the first year in which onshore trade book sales increased. Trade sales in 2015 were worth approximately $979 million, which is 2.4 per cent higher in value compared to the previous year to date period, according to a study by Macquarie University. The Australian-first study of the country’s book publishing industry analysed findings from interviews with 25 senior Australian publishers of various sizes, across trade, education, scholarly and literary sectors. The average selling price of books in Australia has gone down from a peak of $19.90 in 2009 to $17.35 in 2015 as publishers have responded to price competition from overseas retailers. According to the research, Big W is now believed to be the single biggest book retailer in Australia, in terms of volume. Dr Jan Zwar, researcher at Macquarie University’s Faculty of Business and Economics, attributes this to factors such as foot traffic generated across Big W’s store network and ranging a limited number of blockbuster titles at cheaper prices. “They’ve got a large number of stores in carefully chosen locations and people go there to buy clothing, cosmetics, games, toys, all sorts of things,” Dr Zwar told Inside Retail Weekly. Another major trend highlighted by the study was publishers interacting directly with consumers, without cutting out the retailer. “A trend I noticed with the big publisher is, they’re dealing directly with readers and that’s very unusual,” Zwar said. “Traditionally they were hands off and the bookseller was the interface with the reader. And now they want to get to know readers better, learn more about what readers want from them, but at the same time be working in partnership with booksellers to sell more books. “Historically, if you look at hundreds of years of the book industry, that is one of the most significant changes.” Want more Inside Retail? Subscribe to Inside Retail Weekly now and get our premium print publication delivered to your door every week.