Editorial: Why good bookshops have a bright future

Last updated 11:25 12/03/2014
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MARTIN DE RUYTER/FAIRFAX NZ
NEW CHAPTER: Peter Rigg and Susi Blackmore outside their shop Page and Blackmore in Trafalgar St. They are putting their business up for sale.

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OPINION: It's almost taken as read that bookshops have a limited shelf life.

If that were true, it would be a great shame for many reasons, not merely missing the simple pleasure of walking into an independently run, locally owned store and inhaling the unique aroma of newly printed and bound words.

Certainly, some long-running independent book sellers in centres such as Timaru, New Plymouth and Wellington have shut up shop. They have been hit by fewer people reading books, and have been undercut by the prices and global reach of online book retailers such as Amazon.

The emergence of e-books has also had an effect, albeit not as great as some have predicted.

The bigger chains have been hit just as hard, if not harder, than the independents. They rely on shifting big numbers of books by bestselling authors, but this cream has been diluted by Amazon and other online retailers selling and shipping books at a small or sometimes no margin.

Fortunately, there are independent bookshops bucking the trend - and luckily for Nelson, one of them is based in the central city.

Page & Blackmore has become an institution over the past 15 years. Its recipe, like that of other vibrant independent stores such as Unity Books in Wellington and Auckland, is based around specialist service and products.

Walk into Page & Blackmore with a vague idea about the reading preferences of a family member about to have a birthday, and in no time you will be given a range of options from authors you never knew existed. If Mustangs from the 1960s are your thing, there will be a magazine with your name on it.

Good bookshops are still primarily a business, but they also provide social capital in the form of knowledge, entertainment and inspiration.

In essence, the shop started by the business merger between Susi and Tim Blackmore and Peter and Ann Rigg has succeeded by building its own community. This is no mean feat, requiring extremely knowledgeable staff with a tailored approach to fitting the book to the customer.

But it has paid off with commercial success and recognition, including winning the title of best bookshop in the South Island three times.

So the news this week that the Blackmores and Riggs, for a variety of personal and health reasons, are selling the shop could be a little unsettling. However, they emphasise that the business is healthy, and there are encouraging noises from independent bookselling generally. They also say the sale will not be rushed as they search for a suitable buyer.

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Whoever it is will naturally bring new ideas but hopefully retain the ethos that has served the store and its community well.

They may not get help from elsewhere, however. New Zealand retailers have argued for a level playing field with overseas-based online retailers, whose sales do not attract GST. But with research finding that it is not cost-effective to collect GST on items costing less than $400, the law is unlikely to change.

Independent bookshops still have a tough road, but reports of their demise are exaggerated.

- Nelson

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