Whitcoulls workers face uncertain future

Whitcoulls workers face uncertain future – NZ Herald News

The placing of national book chain Whitcoulls in voluntary administration is yet another example of an iconic New Zealand company being bought out and loaded up with debt, a union representing staff says.

Borders and Whitcoulls were put under administration in Australia and New Zealand yesterday.

Australian parent company REDgroup Retail, which manages operations in both countries, called in voluntary administrators to the business.

I’ve watched Borders’ slow motion collapse, first in the UK and now in the US, and have wondered what would happen to our Borders stores. Today I have my answer and it’s not good. The New Zealand stores, along with the Whitcoulls chain, are owned by an Australian company which finds itself in trouble. I hope that by closing some stores, tightening their focus on books, and working hard to increase ebook sales, they can trade their way out of trouble.

The real problem they’re facing though, is Amazon. It’s often cheaper for me to import books from the US or UK, even after I account for shipping costs and the vagaries in the exchange rate. It can cost over $30 to buy a trade paperback in Whitcoulls or Borders and about $20 for a mass market paperback. Hardcover prices are just ridiculous. I can’t bring myself to pay those prices so I tend to buy books on sale or when Borders is running one of its promotions.

We spend a lot of time in bookshops and I love to browse. It’s fun to stumble on something unexpected and it’s hard to beat going home with a pile of books and settling down in a corner for a spot of binge reading. But mostly these days I buy online. Whitcoulls has a good website and they could do worse than really focusing their efforts here. It’s not easy to source legal copies of ebooks in New Zealand because of the (silly) geographical restrictions publishers have placed on many titles. But Whitcoulls has done some really good deals with publishers. The selection is great, much better than what’s available on the Sony ereader website, or at Amazon for the Kindle, and they’ve sensibly decided to make the price of an ebook slightly cheaper than the equivalent paperback. I really like the model and the choice, so I hope the website survives. They’re also good at sourcing and shipping books. Pretty much everything I want is available on their website. Delivery is prompt and if something goes wrong the phone support is quick and actually supportive.

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2 Responses to Whitcoulls workers face uncertain future

  1. trayflow says:

    I was just reading about this. I was in borders yesterday but left disappointed because they didn’t have what I needed. I am still astounded at what books cost here.

    The town where I grew up just closed it last book shop. The only option those poor people have now is wal-mart or target shops…as well as online. Such a shame not to have a proper bookshop to browse. The Internet is great until there is nowhere left to shop!

    • Janettes says:

      That’s the problem isn’t it? You go in the store and it doesn’t have what you’re looking for. This happens to me all the time. A bookshop just can’t compete with an online store as far as inventory goes. And, in New Zealand and Australia they can’t compete on price. I’m not sure what that leaves them really. Knowledge, good service, and a focus on local books I suppose.
      There’s a good independent bookshop in Wellington – Unity Books – which has a much more varied stock than Borders and Whitcoulls. It stocks lots of books published by small presses and has a lot of international literature in translation. It also has pretty comprehensive NZ fiction and non-fiction sections. They seem to be doing okay.
      I really hope bookshops survive in some form. I can’t imagine living in a town with no bookstore – I’d hate it. Online is more efficient in lots of ways, but it can’t replace the experience of browsing the shelves.

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