Indies cautious on digital post Xmas

Indies cautious on digital post Xmas

<p>Independent booksellers are adopting a wait and see policy on Google&rsquo;s e-book platform, as more than a third of the sector reported sales increasing year on year.</p><p>In the second annual survey of the independent sector by <em>The Bookseller</em>, 31.6% of indies said sales were down in 2010, with the remaining 34.2% of shops saying sales were flat.</p><p>The overwhelming majority of independents said the harsh weather in December had affected sales in the run up to Christmas. Peter Donaldson, from Red Lion Bookshop in Colchester, said: &ldquo;On the snowiest days we did 10% of our usual business.&rdquo;</p><p>However, the weather appeared to have unexpected benefits in the days before Christmas as shoppers became anxious online orders would not arrive in time. Harry Wainwright, of the Oldfield Park Bookshop in Bath, said: &ldquo;We did have a wave of people coming in during the last 5 days who had cancelled Amazon orders. We were promising deliveries very carefully.&rdquo;</p><p>There was a mixed picture when it came to the delivery of titles in the run-up to Christmas. Booksellers largely praised the work of Gardners and Bertrams although they were critical of the fulfillment of books from DHL. Sheila O&rsquo;Reill from Dulwich Books in London said: &ldquo;DHL &amp; TNT were dreadful. Both major wholesalers actually managed to despatch every day however we had to get our own boxes from DHL on five different days.&rdquo;</p><p>However, several independents reported an improvement in supply in the week before Christmas. Hereward Corbett, of the Yellow Lighted Bookshops in Tetbury and Nailsworth, said: &ldquo;After some very poor weeks in November and early December, DHL managed to sort out their problems with Bertrams deliveries, and both wholesalers were truly heroic. To place an order at 5.25pm and get it at 9.04am the next day in the worst weather in a generation is fantastic.&rdquo;</p><p>Independents were sceptical that digital had heavily impacted their sales in 2010. Sheridan Swinson of Aardvark Books in Shropshire, said: &ldquo;Digital is not a completely compelling offer as yet - books are currently so cheap as a physical offering that there&rsquo;s no great price differential as yet. At some point it will become more of a factor, but in the areas that we are strongest - in art, children&rsquo;s and rare books - I can&rsquo;t see it impinging.&rdquo;</p><p>Despite the possibility of being able to sell e-books on their own websites through Google&rsquo;s e-books platform, which will launch in the UK later this year, indies were cautious on the scheme. Olfield Park Bookshop&rsquo;s Wainwright said: &ldquo;I will listen to other independent bookselling colleagues, but it sounds like a promising concept.&rdquo;</p><p>Others were less convinced. Aardvark Books&rsquo; Swinson said: &ldquo;No, I would rather eat my arm off. I think booksellers and publishers need to wake up. They can&rsquo;t see a foot without shooting it, time and time again they have failed to see what&rsquo;s happening. What will happen with e-books is that publishers will be cut out - authors will go direct to Amazon or Google.&rdquo;</p><p>Looking ahead to 2011, one independent was wary of how government cuts would affect school budgets. Tim West of the Big Green Bookshop in north London said: &ldquo;We do a lot of business with schools, organising author tours and workshops. Schools are worried about their money and they don&rsquo;t want to commit to anything... The general financial climate makes everyone a bit wary.&rdquo;</p><p>However, despite the recession, many independents were at least cautiously optimistic about the future. Rosamund de la Hey of Main Street Trading Company in St Boswells said: &ldquo;We are a young business with lots of plans to expand our customer offering. As a rural business, the main threat is always going to be the internet, however Amazon can&rsquo;t deliver good coffee and cake while tempting customers with books they didn&rsquo;t know they needed.&rdquo;</p>