Muse by Craig Ranapia

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Muse: Shelf Life: The Dying Elephant in The Book Room?

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  • giovanni tiso, in reply to Richard Derham,

    I've noticed, especially in the last few years, that I can go down to Whitcoulls to buy a book and leave empty handed due to there being nothing there I want to read.

    Whitcoulls gift voucher is my standard present from the in-laws (not this year, as luck has it - unless they put it in a large box for practical trickery) and that's the only thing that drives me to the bookstore, but more than once I've left empty handed at the first attempt. There's nothing there I want to buy and if you order something the mark up on the Book Depository price is pretty much the amount on the card, so I can just buy online myself and save time, thank you.

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7412 posts Report Reply

  • Isabel Hitchings,

    Until it was shut down by the boxing day aftershock I spent a lot of time in the central Christchurch branch of Whitcoulls due to it being located opposite my kids' school and beside the bus stop and therefore a useful place to use up a spare 15 minutes. There were a couple of women who worked in the children's department who were friendly and knowledgeable and who I appreciated greatly.

    Christchurch • Since Jul 2007 • 706 posts Report Reply

  • Gabor Toth,

    My brief dabble in independent book publishing certainly didn't leave me with a good impression of Whitcoulls. When Great New Zealand Argument launched, Whitcoulls' copies hadn't left the Warehouse and later we started getting direct sales requests from regional branches because they couldn't get the books from their own head office. It was absurd.

    I personally know of a similar case relating to a popular Wellington local history book. The (Wellington-based) author had their own small publishing company so had boxes of fresh copies sitting in their house. Whitcoulls was experiencing heavy demand for the book in the city with most stores selling-out but refused to accept his free offer to drive around to each branch to deliver extra copies as he had done in the (pre Red group) past with his previous books. Instead they insisted that he had to pay to have books couriered up to their Auckland warehouse so they could be distributed back to their Wellington stores. The books then "stalled" in the distribution warehouse and it was weeks before any copies made their way back down to Wellington and into their shops. The delay was so great that demand started tailing off though much of the slack was picked up by local independent book sellers who obviously understood the principles of supply and demand better that Whitcoulls did.
    This kind of corporate inflexibility did them no favours.

    Wellington • Since Dec 2006 • 120 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia, in reply to Gabor Toth,

    This kind of corporate inflexibility did them no favours.

    Certainly – small indie book stores, which seems to be thriving as much as anyone in the retail sector can at the moment, don’t have that luxury. You’ve got to go that bit further, be innovative and flexible in your customer service, build and maintain strong relationships with suppliers, realise that your biggest asset is good will, because you can’t afford "big box" retail complacency.

    I personally know of a similar case relating to a popular Wellington local history book.

    I know of more than one, but good luck getting any local publisher to tell their Whitcoulls horror-stories on the record. If REDgroup Retail does seriously intend to trade its way out of administration, I hope its going to be a wake-up call that Whitcoulls (and A&R in Australia) must build a more responsive, flexible and generally respectful relationship with local publishers.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12073 posts Report Reply

  • philipmatthews,

    More than once I've left empty handed at the first attempt. There's nothing there I want to buy.

    I know the feeling. Last year I was given a $30 Whitcoulls voucher and spent an hour going through their biggest store down here (Cashel St) looking for something I might actually want. I ended up with a Geoff Dyer book that I'd already read but didn't own.

    This is sad given the long history of Whitcoulls here but as many others have said, they lost their way as a bookseller years ago. Where possible I try to support Scorpio, our independent equivalent to Unity and a very good store, but for things published in Britain by smaller presses and coming in in small numbers, it has to be the Book Depository.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2007 • 646 posts Report Reply

  • Emily Perkins,

    There are some great points made here and thanks Craig and Russell for providing the forum. The Nine to Noon interview is definitely worth a listen. I guess as an invested author it's simple for me to want to support those who support me, so I buy from independents and chain stores that know what they're doing & reorder stock when it's sold through (many big chains don't think to do this with NZ books).

    Although the internet is great for researching I try as far as possible to order through independents, even if it means waiting longer. It seems to me that if we want certain things in our communities we have to be active participants in that relationship, whether it's buying music & books locally because you like having the stores to browse & hang out in or know people who are employed there or would just rather have them there than a parking lot - or making use of public transport, or sending kids to the local school, etc. I know I've got very personal interests in the ongoing existence of physical bookstores, & apologies (well, not really) for coming over all Joni Mitchell, but we don't have to be slaves to the shifting technological moment if there are aspects of the status quo we would like to preserve.

    As far as Whitcoulls goes, I would love to see them return to what's been articulated above in terms of what people want out of a bookstore - but maybe that has changed too, in a way that's always going to be incompatible with their economic and administrative structure.

    So, I'm biased, and not 'blaming' the internet as this doesn't look like a situation of 'fault', but - and I'm possibly preaching to the choir or stating the bleeding obvious! - I just want to speak up for active consumer engagement that isn't only convenience based. If we have to live in a consumer society at least we can try to make it one that serves a physical community too.

    Auckland • Since Feb 2011 • 5 posts Report Reply

  • Jane Pearson,

    I recently found two old $25 book vouchers for Whitcoulls lurking in an envelope in a drawer. As they had no expiry date I went to the local Whitcoulls to spend them. My initial search was unsuccessful but after much thought I came up with a book I could expect them to have. I asked a shop attendant to check their catalogue to see if the book was available and was told there was one copy for sale in the store. However both she and I could not find it on the shelf. Several days later I checked again. There was still one copy listed on their catalogue and still no sign of it on the shelf. On this occasion I was told that until that copy sold, no new copies would be sent from the distribution warehouse. As I remarked to the young man, there seemed to be a bit of a catch 22 to that possibility!

    Fortunately I thought of another book that I could spend my vouchers on but I still have $15 on the gift card that I was given as change, which at the time seemed very reasonable.

    In Nelson we have the independent Page and Blackmore Booksellers which is regularly full of people happily browsing through their wonderful range and getting the good service which goes with it.

    I do use the Book Depository for children's books that have long been out of print but which they have available, I think through their own publishing list. And I have learned to look at the book descriptions to check on the book dimensions so that I don't discover I have bought a mini picture book.

    Since Feb 2010 • 22 posts Report Reply

  • Deborah, in reply to Islander,

    that Chinese contract

    Oooh.

    Manawatu City • Since Nov 2006 • 1330 posts Report Reply

  • Islander,

    I’m cynical. I never got any advance, let alone royalties, for the Czechoslovakian number, nor any royalties for the Norwegian version. *
    An Israeli person, who has become a friend, spent a lot of time & effort translating tbp into Russian(she is Russian-born, and fluent, sigh, in 4 languages including English) – only to be shafted when it came to actually sending her $$$ for her 2 years’ of work.

    I am sure this company is different – but.

    *I just have – I suspect extremely rare – copies of the translations in question. A really neat thing – they keep the Maori in there! Hooray! I can read parts!

    Big O, Mahitahi, Te Wahi … • Since Feb 2007 • 5643 posts Report Reply

  • Rob Hosking,

    Someone from the Consumers Institute was interviewed on NatRad this evening and said basically if you've got Whitcoulls vouchers, take the 50%.

    Technically you're an unsecured creditor and with everything legally frozen they don't legally have to honour them at all right now.

    Any new owner won't be obliged to honour them either: they buy the assets but not the liablities.

    You can register as an unsecured creditor but you'd probably get better odds buying a lotto ticket.

    South Roseneath • Since Nov 2006 • 805 posts Report Reply

  • Jackie Clark, in reply to Islander,

    Ooh even more!

    Mt Eden, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3123 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    It's also worth noting that Whitcoull's has private equity owners.

    I don't know the back-story here -- anyone here who does? I'd be interested -- but it looks like yet another example of how fucked the private equity model is.

    Is this another case of a successfully trading company being wrecked by debt loaded in by private equity owners?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 19116 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia, in reply to Russell Brown,

    Is this another case of a successfully trading company being wrecked by debt loaded in by private equity owners?

    Bloody good question. I'm certainly hoping a solid business journalist - either here or in Oz - is going to get under the "evil interwebz broke our business" meme which seems to have dominated the media narrative so far. Still not buying it.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12073 posts Report Reply

  • recordari, in reply to Jane Pearson,

    I asked a shop attendant to check their catalogue to see if the book was available and was told there was one copy for sale in the store.

    This happened to me in Whitcoulls St Lukes with Karen Healey’s Guardian of The Dead. It was apparently ‘there’, just that ‘there’ happened to be in a parallel universe that was not in NZ fiction, YA fiction, Fantasy, Gardening, Teen Fiction, Vampire Fiction (I swear there was a whole section) or the Magazine section. In the end I gave up and bought it elsewhere.

    AUCKLAND • Since Dec 2009 • 2607 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia, in reply to Emily Perkins,

    No, thank you (and Islander) for contributing - in all the commentary and media coverage, writers have been marginalized. Very easy to forget you guys are affected every bit as much as publishers and the book retailing sector.

    And seriously, folks, thanks for all your wonderfully thoughtful contributions. The nice but scary thing about Public Address is that there's a lot of smart and passionate people around here; as often as not, I've felt like my real function is to lay some fuse wire, light it up and get the hell out of the way.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12073 posts Report Reply

  • Islander,

    Entering RED group produces interesting stuff....

    Big O, Mahitahi, Te Wahi … • Since Feb 2007 • 5643 posts Report Reply

  • Christopher Dempsey, in reply to MikeE,

    Strangely enough, Real Groovy ditched alot of music and expanded their book section, which points to, well something. Possibly their range, not to be found in either Unity Books or Whitcoulls is well, unique. Goths/punks/indies/alternates etc apparently do read.

    Parnell / Tamaki-Auckland… • Since Sep 2008 • 642 posts Report Reply

  • Christopher Dempsey, in reply to Russell Brown,

    Yes, Levenes?

    Parnell / Tamaki-Auckland… • Since Sep 2008 • 642 posts Report Reply

  • Christopher Dempsey, in reply to Craig Ranapia,

    + 1 @ Craig. I'm not buying the interwebz killed the book star argument... there's more to this story than a cabinet at the side of the road...

    Parnell / Tamaki-Auckland… • Since Sep 2008 • 642 posts Report Reply

  • Chris Robertson,

    Last year I needed to spend a voucher, so I went in to Whitcoulls Corner armed with a list of fairly mainstream YA. I eventually found my seventh choice, with the usual markup, and reaffirmed my relationship with the library. Borders used to have a pretty decent SF section (I've long since stopped looking for SF in Whitcoulls), but I could never afford their prices with any regularity and they put me off early on by refusing to accept Booksellers Association tokens. Good for a coffee and a social browse, though.

    Libraries all the way. The Auckland selection is fantastic if you're willing to wait for requests, and I've had good luck suggesting purchases when they didn't have a book I wanted. (Space and money - I don't let myself buy books any more unless a) they're so out of print I'm lucky to find a copy or b) I know I want to read them more than once.)

    Auckland • Since Feb 2011 • 5 posts Report Reply

  • giovanni tiso, in reply to Emily Perkins,

    So, I'm biased, and not 'blaming' the internet as this doesn't look like a situation of 'fault', but - and I'm possibly preaching to the choir or stating the bleeding obvious! - I just want to speak up for active consumer engagement that isn't only convenience based. If we have to live in a consumer society at least we can try to make it one that serves a physical community too.

    That's a bit complicated, though, isn't it. I am very fond of both Unity Books and the Children's Bookshop in Kilbirnie, and if I find a title whilst browsing there I wouldn't think of going home and searching for a cheaper alternative online. Then again if I know the book I want, and it isn't a New Zealand book, I'm more likely to order from the Book Depository. We saved a small fortune buying the books for the kids that way last Christmas - we just happened to have a list of classics in mind from the outset - and yes we could have given a hundred dollar-plus donation to the Children's Bookshop instead, but it's good money, and there are other worthy causes besides our ever-expanding grocery bills.

    I don't think bookstores will survive thanks to engaged consumers. They will survive by providing smart readers with a service that cheaper online depositories can't match. Whitcoulls hasn't been doing that, and frankly it's not technology's fault.

    My favourite bookseller back home told me once that he didn't let his clerks use the newly acquired computer inventory system - you need to know what a book looks like and where it is and why it is there, he explained. Looks like he was right.

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7412 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha,

    Richard Ram adds:

    Good bye Whitcoulls, you had over ten years to figure this shit out. #flyingpig

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 16996 posts Report Reply

  • jessica scott,

    Now that I'm thinking about Bookshops I like: The Island Bay Stationers in Wellington is one of my favourite bookshops and a recent surprise discovery. You wouldn't expect it from looking at the front window- it looks like a regular dairy/magazine shop. It has an amazing range of children's books- we found a first edition 'The Bad Baby and the Elephant', and were sold it at the cost on the original price sticker, dating back to the 70's!

    Wellington • Since Mar 2010 • 20 posts Report Reply

  • Anna Bowbyes,

    While I'm not a huge Whitcoulls/Borders fan and much prefer to support my local independent bookstores, if there are store closures the impact will be felt beyond bookstore staff losing their jobs. NZ publishers rely on these chains to buy their books. The loss of sales will force publishers to tighten their belts, affecting NZ authors as much as the book-buying public.

    Auckland • Since Feb 2011 • 1 posts Report Reply

  • Ethan Tucker, in reply to Sacha,

    Ah, 'good' old Flying Pig, I'd forgotten about you. They've always been a fairly conservative bunch. I worked at Whitcoulls part-time for a couple of years in the early 90s and it was pointed out to me that it was one of the few retail chains that largely shunned TV advertising. Its policy on sales was the opposite to the flog-em ethos of Briscoes et al: I think there were two annual sales, regular as clockwork, never more. Does this paint a picture of a company that assumed its position as the bedrock of the NZ book retail market was unchallengeable?

    I love the access here to London's many discount and remainder bookshops - Judd Books in Bloomsbury is my idea of paradise. The contents of most sale displays in places like Whitcoulls and Borders pale in comparison. Couldn't a savvy book-loving investor make a mint by hopping a cheap flight to London once or twice a year and shipping container-loads of quality remainder stock to NZ?

    Wellington • Since Apr 2008 • 109 posts Report Reply

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