Autopsy reports from the REDgroup Retail collapse

There’s been a lot of ink spilt over the news that REDgroup Retail has gone into administration casting an uncertain future over its 26 Borders and 164 Angus & Robertson shops in Australia.

The autopsy reports vary. Some say the company was the victim of online retailing, others that it was just badly run.  Former NSW premier, Bob Carr, said it was the inevitable result of flawed protectionist policies.

I’m not going to pretend I have the answers. All I know is that as an aspiring crime novelist, I doubt it’s going to make getting published any easier.

Of those who have thrown their ten cents into the debate, two are worth quoting in detail. Here’s what founder and publisher of Scribe Publications, Henry Rosenbloom, had to say:

“The REDgroup story is indeed a cautionary tale, but not of the type Carr (or some others) think. This is not a territorial-copyright story. Nor is it an internet-takes-over bookselling story.

Borders/A&R in its REDgroup incarnation was a very badly-run business, for which the owners, PEP, are responsible. The managers were bovver boys who alienated all their inherited knowledgeable staff (who left), made appalling decisions about stock selection and presentation, and tried to treat books like potatoes. They never listened, so their business declined drastically, and they ended up trying to sell giftware instead of books. It’s a very good example of why bookselling is not a corporate business — it’s a hands-on, detail-intensive business, with low profit-margins. Only people who love it and know what they’re doing can make a success of it — internet or no internet.”

The question of whether book selling and hard market economics are antithetical is an interesting question.

My friend, Guy Rundle’s comments here in Crikey about the longer term implications of the Redgroup Retail collapse are also worth thinking about.

“That is clearly changing rapidly and radically, and so the whole centrality of the shop is changing. It is no longer a necessary place, and so the high street no longer acts as the spatial core of a community. At some point a whole series of mainstream shops will succumb to insufficient, intermittent demand. Everyone will want to know they are there, but no-one will use them enough.”

The wider question, in terms of future life, is how we will sustain any form of public spatial life at all – as the last shared, necessary space dissolves. Doubtless we will, but there may be a long period before we realise that the very form of our lives is changing. That period has already begun.”

Last week’s events finally made me get off my arse and sign up for the Book Lovers Book Review Aussie Author Challenge, something I’ve been meaning to do for a while. I have elected the ‘True Blue’ category, which means I have to read and review 12 crime books by at least 9 different Australian authors.

It’s a bit of an ambitious target, if I do say so myself.

Partly, I’ve done it to push myself to read more Australian crime and review it for Pulp Curry. Reading books takes time, especially if you intend to review them. Films are easier, which is why I do more of this for the site.

Partly, there’s a bit of self-interest, well, hell, a lot of self-interest. If I and other first time authors stand any chance of getting our books into print, we need a local publishing infrastructure to exist. That means people need to read Australian books, that means I better start practicing what I preach.

So, 12 Australian crime books by the end of the year and it’s nearly March. I’d better get my skates on.

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4 responses to “Autopsy reports from the REDgroup Retail collapse

  1. Perhaps we can tempt you with some of our recently reviewed Australian crime fiction at Fair Dinkum Crime Andrew, it’s a new-ish blog that a friend and I have set up as fans of Australian crime fiction. As well as reviews we try and cover news and events and anything relating to Australian crime fiction. And of course when you get published let us know and we’ll be only too happy to review the book.

    • Thanks for the comment. I like your site and have put it on my blog roll. If you want to link my site to yours that would be great. I’ll definitely be in contact with you guys in the future in relation to cross posting my Australian crime reviews with yours, if you’re up for it. Why don’t you subscribe by e-mail and that way you can just see any reviews that come up that you want to post on yours?

      By the way, are either of you going to see Snowtown? I believe it’s playing at the Adelaide Film Festival. I’d love someone to do a review of it for my site. Would you guys be interested? I would link it to your blog.

      Good luck with the site and hope to talk soon.

      Andrew

  2. Guy may be right that we’re not sharing public spaces out of necessity in a strictly utilitarian sense but it seems to me on my all too brief visits to Melbourne suburbia that people are keen to be out and about, conducting all manner of once upon a time private business in public. And we’re eating. Where once there were furriers and tobacconists in my high street – necessary in their day – there are now cafes, bars and eateries alongside the odd bookstore. Those bookstores weren’t there because readers went to the library. Andrew, I know, hardly a rounded analysis – commentary of Gardenvale from Dili – but you’ll get published. Lot’s of readers out there interested in crime, Asia and story-telling and willing to pay. Going to check out Fair Dinkum Crime now.

  3. Di,

    Yeah. I know what you mean. I suspect Guy is partly out to make a point (and over extends himself a bit in doing so), that there are larger forces behind the collapse of REDGroup than poor business skills. Technology is fundamentally changing how we live. You can see that in everything from the shrinking membership base of unions and political parties, to the closure of cinema (and books stores).

    There are countervailing trends and places were there is still a sense of community, like my daughter’s school or the local sports club. There are also successful bookshops. Interestingly, however, these seem to be mostly in the affluent inner suburbs.

    Whatever one thinks about the business model behind Borders and A&R, the unfortunate thing is that their parent company’s collapse will mainly affect people in the suburbs, where many of those bookshops shops are. Hopefully, other providers will come in and fill any gap that arises.

    Look forward to seeing you in Australia in March.

    Andrew

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