'Heavy book buyers avoiding bookshops' says HC chief

Bricks and mortar bookshops in the United States face a grim future, with the heaviest book buyers choosing to buy digitally, delegates at London Book Fair were told.

Speaking at the 40th anniversary keynote seminar, HarperCollins president and c.e.o. Brian Murray said the number of US e-readers—grown from 15m a year ago to 40m today—was having a disproportionately large effect on the market because they had reached "core" readers, those buying over 12 books a year. He said: “Some of the heaviest book buyers no longer visit bookstores.” He said some e-books had a 50% share of total sales during the first few months, a “watershed” for the trade.

Meanwhile Penguin Group chief executive John Makinson referred to the "decline—and in some parts of the world, the collapse—of physical book retailing".

Responding to their comments, Tim Godfray, chief executive of the Booksellers Association, thought the issue should not be overstated despite high-profile bricks and mortar casualties over the past 12 months. "Over the next few years shops will come under further pressure," he said. "But that's really far away from predicting the death of the bookshop. No way do we see the end of the bookshop, absolutely not, nor the end for the printed book. More people are going to read as a result of digital, and that will include books. Our challenge to make sure booksellers are involved in how those books get to market."

Godfray said the challenge for publishers was to work out how they support the high street, given the need for shop window visibility for books to sell.

Anova chairman Robin Wood said that talking to the North Americans at the fair, he'd found them "as worried as anyone" about the demise of the out-of-centre retailers. "More than one publisher has said to me that it is so different to publish a book where there are no browsers," he added. "In the States, they are waiting to see what will happen with Borders, and without Borders there will be a big gap.”

Emma Hopkin, m.d. of Bloomsbury Children's, said of Murray's statements: "From the vantage point of the UK, I feel we're a long way from [heavy book buyers avoiding bookshops]. But nobody buys anything without digital any more so we're prepared."

LBF Daily: Day 3