A few days ago, the Guardian reported a 42% increase in the number of bookstores that closed in the UK last year. That is a whopping 98 stores, some of which had been around for decades.
Naturally, there is more than one reason for all these closures. The article says that part of it is due to deep discounts and the digital book market. But the secondhand book market, particularly in the world of academic textbooks, has soared, and Amazon’s secondhand marketplace definitely hasn’t helped. This is one of the few articles I’ve read that also lists digital piracy as part of the problem. Additionally, the end of the Net Book Agreement (NBA) in 1997 was a game changer.
Originating in 1899, the NBA agreement essentially allowed publishers to set the retail price themselves. Each publisher agreed not to do business with anyone who tried to discount books. The retailers thought this was fine because it wouldn’t hurt their bottom line either. But then things began to change.
Some people believed that the NBA was a restrictive practice, so the issue was re-examined in 1982. The agreement was upheld because it allowed publishers to subsidize the work of “potentially important” authors. You can read more about how the agreement unravelled in the 1990’s through the link provided in the Guardian’s article.
It saddens me to see so many bookstores go. I was raised with bookstores, but the chains look far different from the stores I remember, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Although I’ve embraced the digital age, by both buying and selling e-books, I was hoping that more booksellers would find ways to adapt. Maybe it was simply wishful thinking. Clearly, the UK is in a state of flux and some people clearly blame Amazon’s arrival. But maybe it all comes down to re-evaluating what customers want, and trying to accommodate them a little better. I do know that the model of “we’ve always done things this way so why should it change?” just doesn’t cut it anymore.
You can find the article at http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/nov/04/ebooks-discounts-98-publishers-closure