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The changing world of bookselling

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Purich Publishing Blog

Dec 2013

The Changing World of Bookselling

POSTED BY Don Purich

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Books delivered by drones; and deep discounts becoming illegal – the changing world of bookselling

Not that long ago the book selling world operated in pretty simple terms. Most cities and towns had a well established, or in some cases more than one, independent bookstore. And of course, throughout Canada, we had the Coles chain of stores. In addition many drugstores had a reasonable selection of books, as did some of the department stores.

Today, with the odd exception the independent bookstore in English Canada is a rarity. Book sales are dominated by on-line sellers like Amazon and Chapters Indigo. And the physical bookstore market is very much dominated by Chapters Indigo stores (who now also own Coles) and retail giants like Costco, Walmart, and the distributors who handle airport sales. Often these retailers control the market by offering deep discounts on titles. Thus our firm’s newly released book with a suggested retail price of $25.00 is offered by an on-line retailer “starting at $15.68.”

Recently, the Quebec government announced that it wants to do something about the dominance of retail giants. It is proposing legislation that would prohibit booksellers from discounting a title more than 10% from the suggested retail price for the first nine months after a title is released. This would apply to digital books as well. According to Quebec’s Culture minister, Maka Kotto “…hopefully this will allow independent booksellers to regain some terrain in the book market…[and] allow book stores to face up to increasingly ferocious competition.” What impact such a provincial law might have on large retailers, especially those operating on-line sales outside of Quebec remains to be seen. What is important in this proposal is recognition that small independent bookstores do play a vital role in prompting and maintaining our literary culture.

Of course, large retailers continue to change the landscape. At the same time that the Quebec government announced plans to impose limits on discounts booksellers could offer (as reported in the December 3, Globe and Mail and elsewhere) Amazon announced a plan to have deliveries made by drones. Thus you could order the hottest best seller and have it delivered to you by drone. As reported in the same December 3 edition of the Globe, the Amazon CEO hoped to have the drones operating within three years. I heard a CBC Newsworld critic dismiss this as pure science fiction. Perhaps, but twenty years ago no one thought Amazon would become the retail powerhouse that it has. 

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