Can New Zealand bookstores survive? |

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First it was a trickle, then a flood. A few years ago, sales of e=
-books =E2=80=93 electronic versions of books that can be downloaded and rea=
d on a computer or handheld device =E2=80=93 were negligible.

These are glad tidings for online retailers. But might good=
old-fashioned high-street bookshops, locked into their traditional bricks a=
nd mortar, be swept away by this new tide?

Not if the book=
shops themselves have anything to do with it. It’s true that they would stru=
ggle to sell e-books by themselves, because of the prohibitive cost of apply=
ing the complex data protection technology needed to stop e-books being copi=
ed repeatedly.

But help is at hand across the Tasman. Aust=
ralian firm Read Cloud has developed a service that will allow people to buy=
e-books from independent bookstores and store them online in a “cloud” so t=
hat they can be read at any time. Title Page, a site created by Australian p=
ublishers, will offer a similar service.

Lincoln Gould, th=
e head of Booksellers New Zealand, says both services should be available so=
on after Christmas, although progress has been “a bit slower than everybody h=

Discussions are also under way to provide independe=
nts with an e-book reader device to sell to customers, as an alternative to p=
roducts like the Kindle, which can only read Amazon’s e-books. “Once a Kindl=
e is in somebody’s hands, we have lost that customer,” says Tim Blackmore of=
Nelson store Page and Blackmore.

David Cameron, the owner=
of Christchurch’s Scorpio Books, says independents “do see” the need to emb=
race e-books, although the technology will not change his business “as quick=
ly as some of the technology pundits have predicted”.

ough e-books sales here could hit NZ$35 million by 2014, according to an Aus=
tralian report earlier this year, Gould says “anecdotally, it’s early days”.=
But this Christmas may see e-book readers like the Kindle become popular pr=
esents, “so in 2012 you will start to see the real impact of e-books on the m=

Cameron hopes to have his website ready to handle e=
-books early in the new year. But it’s not clear that customers will visit a=
bookshop’s website when they can buy from an online retailer =E2=80=93 and t=
he tide may be turning in the latter’s favour.

Around $100=
,000 of state money and book licensing fees has been spent making digital co=
pies of existing print titles for the soon-to-launch Great New Zealand E-Boo=
ks website. But as it stands, site visitors who want to buy the books will b=
e directed either to Japanese-owned online store Kobo, or to New Zealand-bas=
ed online retailers Wheelers and =E2=80=93 technical issues permitting =E2=80=
=93 Fishpond.

What about the bookshops? “That’s the millio=
n-dollar question,” says Paula Browning of Copyright Licensing Ltd, which is=
helping run the project. She is in talks with Booksellers New Zealand, whic=
h is thinking about “how that might work”. For his part, Gould says bookshop=
s will be involved, although he is not yet sure of the detail: “A lot of the=
se things are up in the air.”

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Scorpio’s David Cameron says it “wouldn’t go down very well”=
if bookshops missed out on Great New Zealand E-Books sales. But he is much m=
ore excited about design innovations =E2=80=93 such as textured and 3-D book=
covers =E2=80=93 that turn hardback books into desirable objects, further d=
istinguishing them from their electronic imitators.

And wh=
en e-books may be selling at $13 to $14, there is not much margin in it, esp=
ecially once Read Cloud or Title Page take their cut. Selling e-books is, in=
Tim Blackmore’s words, mostly about “servicing the local community” that wa=
nts to support bookshops. “At the moment,” he says, “we have immensely loyal=
customers. That may change. It will certainly change if we can’t come up wi=
th a solution.”


– =C2=A9 Fairfax N=
Z News


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