Are second hand book shops a dying breed in Australia?

As readers are probably aware books are comparatively more expensive in Australia then say in the US or Canada. So from a buyers perspective the prospect of paying $32.95 for a new trade paperback should make a second hand copy an attractive option. However the discount chainstores offer many bestsellers and new releases for 35% off retail -the same discount many of us independent book sellers get from Australian publishers and distributors. The same buyer also has the option to purchase new books from overseas and with the Australian dollar still strong that is an attractive option. Then the ebook, charity stores (op shops), library services online second hand sellers all take their share. Then there is rent, industry wisdom is that rent should represent 10% of business turnover, but again Australia has defied international trends with prices of residential properties at record highs and retail space also comparatively expensive.

Recently in Melbourne we have seen a spate of second hand bookshop closures in Parkdale, Boronia, Aspendale the CBD and more. The reasons may vary from store to store but the reality is that the number of second hand book stores is rapidly dimishing in a major city with a population of over 4 million.

I came into the B&M in 2006 with only a few years online hobby selling behind me and no other retail experience, but a major passion for books. I was not offered the lease at the original premises and in any case an examination of the financial records indicated that the business turnover was in steady decline at that location. I moved to a cheaper smaller shop in a centre three train stops down the line with a lot less foot traffic, planning to focus on online sales.

Til fairly recently this worked okay but now the online market has become much more competetive and I am looking to the B&M to bring in a larger share of revenue. I have started some advertising -an article here about thinking about rent and advertising as an expense bundle resonating. I have placed an add in the local paper (informal customer survey indicated that direct sales did not cover the add cost) with regular cheaper classified advertisements in the same local papers. I have 25% off discount flyers which were letterboxed locally, placed with local traders and are inserted with every online sale parcel. I have a new website (struggling with that), online listings with every free listing service I could find, listings on a number of listing services, an account with a shopping comparison guide, google adwords, face book ads, a twitter account. Browsers in the store who do not purchase are given a discount coupon to use on their next visit.

We also has a small article in the local paper about the affects of major works at the railway station on local traders, I certainly saw a bump in sales that week.

I have not tried TV and Radio advertising as financially I don’t feel I can afford it and with radio am not sure which stations would be appropriate.

To date the only discount coupon that has been redeemed is one I have handed directly to a customer.

However despite the apparent lack of direct responses to my attemps at marketing business is slowly improving, the rail works are completed and people are coming back to our strip centre. I have started selling a few current best sellers, discounted from RRP. After all if you get asked for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo every day maybe you should have it in stock?

I also try to be more active in selling in the shop, instead of just pointing people in the direction of their preferred genre, I suggest new authors, make sure they know about our book exchange deal, our bulk purchase discount, our book searching service. I do have to slap myself on the side of the head sometimes and remind myself that I am in retail so sell a book for goodness sake!

After some hesitation and taking into account the disruption caused by the public works since June 2009 I have just resigned the lease for another 3 years.

I know I have a lot more room to improve, inventory control is my biggest weakness, I need to get a decent window display and books three deep is not ideal. I also need to look at opening hours to try and capture some of the commuter traffic. There are at least 3000 people a day coming on and off trains and buses outside my door, just how will I get some of them inside the shop?

The one thing I don’t have any trouble acquiring is stock so many baby boomers downsizing I get more offers than I can handle.

Of course is there is only me to do the work.

My next plan is to think of something I can sell along side books, preferably something that doesn’t take up a lot of space.

Therese Holland

McLeods Books

10 Station St


2 thoughts on “Are second hand book shops a dying breed in Australia?”

  1. Thanks Therese for sharing with us. Some of your problems, in varying degrees of course, are the same sort that book shops just about anywhere could be going through. It is always good for people to know they are not alone. Know that you are not alone either.

    As far as selling side items one thing I would suggest is a rack with inexpensive reading glasses either counter top (if room) or a stand alone rack placed near the checkout counter. Here in the U.S. I find them in our local dollar stores. Cheap, made in China, varying degrees of magnification (I use 150’s) with frames that break when I mishandle them. For this reason I buy a few pairs at a time of the cheap ones as opposed to an expensive pair that is sturdier. I’ve found I am apt to permanently misplace (read ‘lose’) an expensive pair and I can buy a bunch of the cheap ones at the price of a single pair of the expensive. (Selling point, “Buy two! The price is right.)

    You mentioned radio. If you have a favorite local radio station and better yet a local radio show host you listen to try giving them a call (about whatever topic will be appropriate) while they are on the air and hopefully you can plug your shop.

    We have talk radio stations here and often times I hear callers manage to plug their business. With books and calling in to a talk radio station it would be simple to give a title of a book (and where it can be found) that is in line with the topic of the hour. (religion, politics, economy, self help…) – With music stations you can call in, ask to speak to the host, gush over how much you love their show (they love to hear that) then get in a plug. (I was sitting here in my bookshop listening and…)

    You might also think about arranging an ‘interview’ with a local radio show. Some show hosts might appreciate the idea because they have to come up with subject matter to keep the show going and your suggestion might fit in with their genre. With this you will have to know in advance, through listening, a bit about the show host so you don’t get slammed by some jerk who makes a living being rude and mean to people. They are out there.

    Hope these ideas help. Some day (when I’m rich and famous) I hope to visit Australia and I will be sure to drop in.

  2. Thankyou
    I get the occasional pair of glasses left behind in the shop so will think about selling specs. There is a local radio station will have to think about it. My SIL has a Phd in marketing so will have to have another long chat with her.
    Part of my problem has been a 200 million dollar redevelopment of the railway station opposite. While it was being undertaken customers stayed away but they are slowly coming back.
    Also my blog didn’t make it clear that I meant I added my details to every free online directory I could find as well as spreading my listings over a number of services. I always mention that pick up is an option and give out my address and telephone number, where the book listing service allows it!

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