18 Jan 2016

The revival of the book shop

From Nine To Noon, 9:23 am on 18 January 2016

Thriving in the digital world has required a change of tactics by the University Book Shop (Otago).

In 2012, University Book Shop (Otago) had posted a loss of more than $200,000. It was a time when other reputable book stores were closing their doors because of on-line competition from services such as Amazon. The casualties continued, with Quilters in Wellington closing last year and Parsons and Capital books the year before.  

Phillippa Duffy took over as general manager of University Book Shop (Otago) in 2012.

"I walked to this wonderful shop that was still the beautiful store that I remembered, and then upon reading the financial accounts realised that, good grief, the situation behind it was somewhat challenging."

Book shops were facing challenges at the time from online buying, shopping offshore and changes in margins for selling of text books.

Changes in the student market, which made up about half the turnover, also had an effect. "TradeMe and other organisations, social media, chat, that could make the swapping and the buying and selling of second hand text books much more easy."

Staff numbers were reduced two-and-a-half years ago, from 19 full time equivalents to 13, and normally 'behind the scenes' book research staff became part of 'front of house' sales.

Ms Duffy told Nine to Noon that having the research staff to engage with book buyers had proven to be vital to the store's survival.

"There were some incredibly talented and experienced people with many years in the book industry, and wonderful fabulous knowledge of books."

For book shops, the fundamental need was to make adequate money to continue, otherwise they could not continue to take a chance on new writers nor support existing writers.

"All done again with the credibility of the booksellers to be able to have opinions on what's being written, what's good, what's not, what worked for them, even what our other customers are reading," Ms Duffy said.