Politician says that in five years' time three-dimensional bookstores will have disappeared
by: Alison Flood
An Australian politician has predicted that bookshops will be wiped out within five years, prompting widespread outrage among the country's booksellers.
Speaking in Canberra, minister for small businesses Nick Sherry said: "I think in five years, other than a few speciality bookshops in capital cities, you will not see a bookstore. They will cease to exist because of what's happening with internet-based, web-based distribution," he said, speaking at an event encouraging small businesses to expand online. "What's occurring now is an exponential take-off – we've reached a tipping point."
His comments follow the collapse of Australia's largest bookseller, Angus & Robertson, and Australian high street chain Borders earlier this year, but were angrily dismissed by the country's booksellers.
Joel Becker, chief executive of the Australian Booksellers Association, said he was "gobsmacked" at the "extraordinarily unhelpful" remarks, and had written to the minister asking him to explain himself. "It's an industry that's obviously going through changes, and we're responding to those changes by working out ways for even the smallest bookstores to go online and sell ebooks; we've been doing it so far without any support from the government," he told the Sydney Morning Herald.
"We're getting ready to have National Bookshop Day in August, celebrating the role of the bookshop in the community and we just found his comments extraordinarily unhelpful. I've asked him to explain them to me, and the rest of the sector for that matter."
Steve Belton, manager of the Paperchain Bookstore at Manuka, was also "open-mouthed", telling the paper that "as the minister for small business, [such talk] is not really supporting small businesses", while Jon Page, president of the ABA and a bookseller at Sydney's Pages and Pages, insisted on Twitter that "we are not a dead or dying industry".
There is "still a place for an independent that services their local community", said Page, telling the SMH that Sherry had shown "a distinct lack of understanding about the Australian book industry".
"It seems he'd rather promote overseas businesses who do not collect much-needed revenue than help the ones within his portfolio. I doubt he's even looked at any industry stats to make a remark like that," Page said.
Sherry later responded to the uproar, telling his Twitter followers that it was "great to see the lively debate about bookshops in the digital age".
"For the record - I'm a book lover and I don't have an e-reader. I'm a traditionalist, but obviously part of a dying breed," he wrote.