Friday, February 27, 2015

How the Mighty Fall

This is a piece from the archives of my old blog. I wrote it back in 2012, and it was interesting to read it over and see how the main points have held true. Here it is, with just a few tweaks for 2015. 

I'd been sad in previous years because the main Christian bookshop chains in Australia didn't seem to support their compatriots the way we would like them to. The truth is they honestly believed they were. They thought that poking a few copies of our books on their shelves was really going all out for us. They declared, 'We support fellow Australians' but never gave our books the same exposure they would give American ones. When asked why, they'd reply, 'Australian books don't sell! But we're still supporting you because at least we have them on our shelves. Anybody who is looking for you will find you. Or if they can't, they only need to ask us.' It always gave the impression that even fellow-Aussies (the bookshops) thought we were producing second rate material without even bothering to read it. The fact is, many Australian authors write wonderful, thought-provoking, entertaining and compelling books.

  The last few years have revealed how shortsighted I'd been without knowing, for my dependent attitude on the book stores. For over a decade, I'd been regarding them as monoliths we need to scale, and getting featured in their catalogues was making it closer to the pinnacle. Well, the spread of ebooks has shown us that maybe we don't need to be Sir Edmund Hilary in the business of writing and selling books after all. Huge structures can actually crumble suddenly while we're still trying to scale them.

In 1989, the Berlin Wall, an apparently permanent and impregnable bastion, was dismantled seemingly overnight. After hundreds of years of supremacy, the Roman Empire ended in quite an unobtrusive way. The strength of its citizens was undermined by the lead pipes of their water system, of all things. Poor Henry V died of dysentery soon after winning the Battle of Agincourt, when he was on the pinnacle of having both England and France under his feet. Napoleon's topple from his pedastal has become a proverb, as he faced Lord Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar and 'met his Waterloo.'  And King Belshazzar of Babylon was feasting and carousing when he and his company suddenly read 'the writing on the wall.' In the morning, his reign was over. And just last week, my son, Blake, and I learned during a history lesson that the mighty Attila the Hun died of a nosebleed! History reinforces the folly of relying on huge structures, but it's a hard lesson to believe when they appear so solid.

As for bookshops, I thought I could sense their foundations beginning to tremble back in 2012, and three years has reinforced it. At that time, I was browsing in Borders bookshop, near the iconic silver balls in Adelaide. After passing their Gloria Jean cafe, where many people were eating and drinking, I took the escalator to the top storey and sat in a plush armchair to look at books. Nothing could have seemed more opulent and substantial. But a few short weeks later, before I had time to make another trip down from the Hills into Adelaide, it was gone! Angus & Robertson followed on its heels. And Word bookstore, which had been in the heart of Adelaide for as long as I could remember, had been forced to shuffle out to some obscure suburb I never visit. At present, Dymocks still seems to be holding on, and I'm sure we all hope it will last.

It's fairly obvious what is shaking the foundations of bookshops. In January 2012, I was given a kindle. Now, my days of driving down to Adelaide especially to visit Koorong are over (or at least very rare). Electronic books are cheap, swift to download and don't have a shelf life. I'm pretty sure that if I have a recommendation for some good old book written years ago, I'll have more chance finding them on Amazon than in Koorong, Dymocks or any other shop. It seems that e-books may be the iceberg to the Titanic of the bookshops. Just twenty or even ten years ago, whoever would have imagined it?

Although there is sadness in this situation, there are a few positive thoughts for writers like myself. We no longer need to get downhearted because the big bookstores aren't interested in us. 'Big' seems to be shrinking daily. We need to keep our chins up, never stop writing or producing whatever we do best, and trust that more opportunities are opening up to spread our voices further than we might believe possible. As King Hezekiah was warned by God not to trust in the horses and chariots of Egypt, I believe He would say the same thing to authors regarding bookshops.

Ironically, straight after I originally wrote this post, they televised 'You've Got Mail' with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. Do you remember loving that movie in the 90s as much as I did? Her quaint, family-owned bookshop was forced out of business by his mega-chain. Who would have believed that in such a short period of time, even his mighty business would be getting shaky? 

If you liked this post, you may also like my list comparing electronic and hard copy books.


  1. Move over, we're moving on! Perhaps unwashed peasants felt similarly about the exclusiveness (and dominion) of the scribes and rulers in the world of literature back in the 16th century! What a dramatic change it was to see the word of God and then other fine literature made available to the masses via education and the printed page. Our garage still holds shelves of old Maths, Physics and Science text books, some completely outdated and others filled with superb information and practice problems - much of which can now be found on the internet with just a few clicks. It seems more difficult to educate our attitude towards change and possibility than it is to actually make the change! Thanks for a great post, Paula.

    1. Hi Cathie,
      Yes, I completely agree! This phenomenon has happened so often in history, yet we still get taken off guard when it does. After all this time, you'd think we'd be more surprised if it doesn't. I'm sure you'll remember school days when we were all let loose in the library to search for the info we needed in encyclopedias, and had to fight for the right volumes. How recent that seems, but how internet and ebooks have changed the world.

  2. I still think (and I'm sure you do too, Paula!) that paperbacks and hardbacks have an important place. But I agree with you about the bookstores. Just this week I was saying to myself. 'Ugh. I should probably go and start trying to get my books into more bookstores again.' Because I know what will happen when I identify myself as an author. I will be given an email address and told this is the contact for their events manager, who will organise a signing for me. Of course, when I email, not matter how many times, I never receive a reply. It's demoralising.
    I've often considered trying to stage an event just for Aussie authors to come and sell their wares directly to the general public, and bypass these bookstores that don't want us. Of course, that would mean that I'd have to find a way to make the public come and that would need money for advertising and a venue, etc. Still, I often think I'd like to try it.

    1. Hi Lynne,
      Yes, I'm glad they still have their place, as it would be very sad to see their total demise. I've had the same experience as you with the bookstores. And it seems that the events manager is never the person in the shop when we front up.
      Keep us updated with your idea, but everything is costly when it comes to all the advertising and extras, for sure.

    2. Almost sounds like the bookshop events manager is really just a polite title for "don't call us, we'll call you."

    3. I think that's a fantastic idea Lynne. Maybe tie it in with book week or time it before Christmas, add a few food stalls, book readings and/or entertainment? Advertising and venue would be key. Hmmmm.

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