I can’t help thinking about how times have changed, of late, for writers. Back in the early 2000s, I sold quite a few titles to publishers – most of them on the strength of a few pages of synopsis and proposal relative to the likely market.
It was a vigorous time. Lots of books were shifting through shop fronts. I had a few hit the best seller lists, and when that happened a bottle of Bollinger would usually appear on my doorstep, couriered down from my publishers. There was the time I turned up in Auckland for a two day visit and managed to get dinner out, via two different publishers, two nights running. Another time I was ferried across the city, by taxi, to give a pep talk from an author perspective to a meeting of my publisher’s sales reps.
Today it’s harder, certainly in New Zealand. Dinners out have dwindled to coffee meetings and there’s a good deal of risk aversion. Understandably, given the shake-up. I’m working at the moment, for instance, on a proposal that involves actually writing at least one full chapter. And that’s fine, though it ups the stakes a bit. If the title isn’t a starter, that’s a big chunk of time to go west. But that’s how it goes, and the plus side is that it’s always fun to learn new stuff.
What’s happened? It’s not just the Amazon effect. There’s been a perfect storm: New Zealand’s world of book retailing was turned on its head a few years back when the biggest book chain fell over – taking with it about a third of all the outlets. (It got better, but the new owners reduced the exposure and today run a combo toy-and-stationery chain that also sells books.) Combine that with the ‘Amazon effect’ and the result was a string of closures. In central Wellington, the ‘golden mile’ down Lambton Quay – the country’s top retail street – once had seven big bookshops. Now it’s down to one. And there is just one independent bookshop left in the central city.
But there are rays of sunshine. Retail book sales were up nine percent in New Zealand this year, which is a positive shift, and there’s a positive feel in the industry. The sense I get is that the ‘Amazon effect’ has played through – it’s reached the point where it’s structurally part of the industry – and the churn-over of the retail outlets has also bottomed out.
All good stuff and we’ll see where that goes.
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2015