Apparently unrelated to the Borders bankruptcy in the US, the REDgroup who own Borders and Angus and Robertson booksellers in Australia and the region are going into administration. Explanations given are the strength of the Aussie dollar, the popularity of tax-free and cheaper books bought online, and retail downturn are contributing factors, but from what I’ve seen of A&R in particular over there last few years there’s other things at play as well.
Recently within the book-buying community a lot of negative branding has occurred associated with large bookselling chains. One I was mentioning to a friend not a few days ago was the 2007 open letter from Tower Books in response to Angus and Robertson’s proposition to small Australian publishers, which you can read about all over the place, including the SMH.
Looking back to 2008 around Christmastime, you can read here about booksellers – Borders and A&R are named – selling books over the RRP to turn a slightly better profit.
In 2008-9 Many have come to the conclusion(including me to some extent) that the push to relax parallel import laws as supported by bookstores and department stores (but not by many independent stores and most booksellers) sidesteps actual issues about taxation of Australian-produced books and issues within the publishing industry, and will cause harm to Australian literature and non-fiction.
In 2010 and 2011 Australian retailers have been arguing for action to be taken to protect Australian retail against online sellers, and even the EFA thinks their demands and suggestions are a little beyond the pale. If you followed the EFA link, you’ll have noticed a lot of the commenters attach this retail tax debate to Angus and Robertson and booksellers in general.
The forces driving A&R to administraion are not perhaps so much economic as they are negative branding. Angus and Robertson and the REDgroup as a whole has seen a lot of negative press within the last three or four years. I’ve been avoiding A&R partly because of some of the negativity I associate with the franchise’s behaviour, and partly because they just can’t compete with local indie stores in my city for stock quality and price. I like Australian writers and literature, I like a wide range of global perspectives outside of best-selling fiction. I suspect that many people feel the same way that I do, and that this as much as anything has affected A&R’s sales. If anyone else can recall anything about A&R in the last few years, please comment or let me know somehow!