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NZ book sales boom

Little girl in bookshop, with cart for goods. There is one among racks.Books are back.

Leading New Zealand booksellers say Christmas sales broke records, ending a year of solid growth for the retail category many thought was doomed by the rise of the eBook.

The nationwide Paper Plus chain has reported a nine per cent increase in sales over Christmas – and in some cities, like Gisborne, sales rose as much as 20 per cent.

The Gisborne result was largely due to the demise of the city’s Whitcoulls branch as the top-seller and stationery focused retailer trimmed its network.

But the trend is still clear. In Wellington, iconic independent bookseller Unity Books said its Christmas sales broke all previous records. By Christmas Eve the store had turned over more than in the entire month of December 2014.

Observers say Whitcoulls is floundering because of its focus on high volume mass market titles at the expense of depth and range. That’s where serious book retailers are cashing in: they provide a dwelling place, a sense of exploration and discovery, and a tactile browsing environment which is impossible to recreate online.

Whitcoulls, which is owned by the James Pascoe Group along with Farmers, Stevens, Pascoes the Jewellers and Goldmark, still has 55 stores remaining across the country, selling books, stationery, toys, puzzles, games, gifts, greeting cards and wrapping and magazines.

Booksellers appear to agree that eBook demand has peaked and the digital equivalent of a printed book is not likely to render the end of paper any time soon.

Paper Plus Gisborne manager Karen Parkinson says overseas retailers are reporting demand for eBook readers seems to have plateaued. Booksellers, she says, are no longer worried by the threat of eBooks.   

David Hedley, of Hedleys Booksellers in Masterton said in a recent interview that readers seem to enjoy printed books and are turning away from electronic versions.

“They’re not as enamoured with eBooks as they were, that’s a common theme. There’s a place for both clearly but they aren’t being seen as a replacement.”

Hedley, too, reported solid Christmas sales: “For the last three or four years there has been a slow decline but this year it’s been gradually growing all year and it came together at Christmas quite well.”

New Zealanders spend about $5.5 million a week on books. Globally, printed copies still account for three-quarters of sales.

“There’s a perception that the book trade is dying but it is actually booming,” observed Chris Lumsden of Paper Plus in Wanaka.

But he said the whole year had delivered good growth in book sales.

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