Whitcoulls: my part in its downfall


Competition from online booksellers is one of the reasons being given for the problems facing the Whitcoulls and Borders bookstore chains.

I have to admit I have played a part in their downfall.

Reading is one of my passions and I buy a lof of books.

If I ever have time to spare when I’m in town or visiting a city I’ll go looking for a bookshop and I rarely come out empty handed.

But in the last couple of years I’ve also bought at least as many books from the online bookstore Fishpond as I have from book shops.

Price isn’t usually the main consideration – there can be savings but most bookshops are pretty competitive. It’s the range of books on offer, the convenience and service which makes buying books online so attractive.

They often have books not available elsewhere. When I was teaching Spanish night classes I found several children’s books, of the same title, in English and Spanish and I’ve bought lots of other books from Fishpond which I haven’t been able to find in shops.

I still love browsing in bookshops. Being able to touch, see and dip into a book which catches my eye will always be preferable to looking at a catalogue online. But if I know the book I’m looking for it’s often easier to get it online than wait until I’m in town with enough time to visit a bookshop.

I was in Dunedin yesterday and called into Whitcoulls. It was busy, as it usually is, and the staff were as efficient and helpful as I’ve always found them. I said to the woman serving me that it must be difficult for her, not knowing if her job was secure.

She replied that the worst thing was not being able to tell the customers what was going to happen because the staff didn’t know.

With staff like that who smile and put the customer first in spite of the uncertain future for their own jobs, there is hope for the company.

Convenient as an online bookstore is, it’s hard to beat face to face service from people who are interested in what they’re selling and care about their customers.

Bah! Humbug!


BP has given $230,000 to volunteer organisations through its Vouchers for Volunteers programme.

Doing good work often comes at a considerable cost for the people and organisations involved and fuel vouchers are a good way of showing appreciation of that.

Maybe I’m getting cynical in my old age but I wasn’t quite so sure about the story of  Whitcoulls and Borders joining forces with the Salvation Army to help struggling families at Christmas.

From now until Christmas, Whitcoulls and Borders will have specially marked boxes under their in-store trees and are asking customers to buy an additional book or gift to place it under the tree.

Helping the Sallies to help others is a worthy project. But there is nothing in the media release about the companies doing anything more than providing boxes for the collection of extra books or gifts purchased in their stores.

If they’re doing that, shouldn’t they be giving a little themselves either by discounting purchases given to the project or giving directly themselves? Otherwise it looks like an attempt to tug their customers’ consciences so they buy more.

Unless the companies are giving something too all they’re doing is taking the credit for their customers’ generosity while boosting their sales.

If that’s the case then it’s, as Scrooge would say: Bah! Humbug!

Is anyone making money from books?


I’ve just got an email from Whitcoulls telling me it’s taken 25% off the price of all its books (in-store, not on-line).

It had a similar offer a fortnight ago. Paper Plus did the same last weekend and the on-line bookseller Fishpond (which is very good for getting books not in stock elsewhere) had similar discounts recently.

Does this mean there’s usually a huge mark-up on books, is it a sign that not enough people are buying books and is anyone making much money from them anymore?

E books are here


Whitcoulls has announced that E books are here and they’ve opened a brand new eBook store.

The Kobo eReader has 1G of memory, is capable of holding up to 1000 books and comes pre-loaded with 100 classic titles.

It costs $295.

Will I be buying one?

Not yet, but if I was planning a trip of more than a few days I’d be seriously considering it.

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