12 April 2024

Small regional bookshops facing final chapter unless government evens up playing field

| Sally Hopman
Join the conversation
Woman in front of shelves of books

Owner of the Yass Book Store, Joanna Hicks, has called for a level playing field when it comes to small independent bookshops in rural areas trying to compete against the large booksellers. Photo: Sally Hopman.

For Joanna Hicks, books are a passion. She’s equally passionate about her community, the Yass Valley, and the creative souls who live there, which is why, about three years ago, she opened the town’s first book shop from her home.

Two years later, she’s moved the business into a larger space on the ground floor of the town’s historic Liberty Theatre. Her passion for all things literary remains, but these days, she doesn’t know for how long.

The first few years were great, she said. Yass folk loved having a bookshop, more people were staying home because of the pandemic and were buying books and games to occupy their time.

Today, she doesn’t know how long she can keep the doors open.

Small, rural independent book shops like her own, are doing it tough. Competing against the mega-book stores, she says, is impossible. “It’s not a level playing field,” she said. “We just can’t compete.”

It has become so tough that she has started a petition, to the Federal Government, asking that rules for selling books be equal for all.

“Only 9 per cent of Australian booksellers today are independent,” Ms Hicks said. “They can’t compete with the multinational giants who sell books at half the price of the independents as soon as they’re released. They can make up the losing margins on the books by selling other products that people buy when they come into the store.”

READ ALSO A monument to nature: Temple at the NFSA

She said a case in point was the release last year of Spare, the book by Prince Harry. She ordered copies because her customers asked for it, but because she doesn’t buy in bulk, she was at the bottom of the delivery list. But as soon as the book was released, the large department stores had cut the price by half. By the time Ms Hicks got her order, her customers didn’t want it.

“I didn’t end up selling one of them,” she said.

Ms Hicks said she didn’t open a small bookshop in a country town to get rich. She did it because she’s alway loved books, where she lives, and genuinely wants to support local authors.

Sign on window saying the Yass Book Store

The Yass Book Store, which has been operating in the town’s old Liberty Theatre, is struggling to survive. Photo: Sally Hopman.

She hosts regular author talks and provides a place for people to gather. She also sells works by other local creatives, including jewellery, cards and collectables.

“These sort of places are not just shops,” she said. “In a town like this they are places for people to meet, to just come in for a chat, to learn things.”

The petition calls on the Federal Government to impose fixed price laws so all bookshops, regardless of size, can sell books at the same price.

It says: “If we value the arts, Australian literature and writers, small business and local bookshops we need to do this. How it works – a publisher sets the price a book can be sold at for a set time after publication. That price applies to every bookseller in the country, large or small, and to books being sold online.

“We can’t sell new books when other retailers get the same books on release and sell them at 50 per cent off RRP,” the petition says.

People interested in signing the petition can find it online.

Original Article published by Sally Hopman on About Regional.

Join the conversation

All Comments
  • All Comments
  • Website Comments

I sympathise with her passion, but I don’t agree that the solution is to have the government intervene in the market to ensure higher prices, so she can run her shop. And how would it work if I buy a book cheaper online from overseas? Would customs hold up my package until I pay the extra, at the government-approved price? Will there be a new government bureaucracy to administer it? Or maybe just ban overseas online book sales? With border guards x-raying packages to detect contraband books? It’s not going to happen.

Daily Digest

Want the best Canberra news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riotact stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.