Christmas sales are tracking at similar levels to last year for the majority of booksellers (65%), with more stores (22%) reporting a decrease in sales than an increase (14%). The results are nearly identical to last year, when 63% of booksellers reported similar sales, 24% reported a decrease and 13% reported an increase. These two years of steady sales come after a stronger than expected pre-Christmas period in 2015, when 80% of all stores surveyed reported a rise in sales.
This year Books+Publishing received feedback from representatives of almost 150 independent, online and chain bookshops around Australia.
Nearly four out of every five bookstores surveyed (79%) reported that sales so far are close to their expectations, which reflects the majority of stores tracking at similar sales to last year. Sales are worse than expected for 13% of stores surveyed, and eight percent of bookstores are selling better than expected.
Overall, booksellers seem cautiously optimistic about the selling season, with many hoping the big rush in the last week of sales will make up for a sluggish start in November. One Melbourne indie bookseller captured the mood of a lot of booksellers: ‘My theory is that the organised shoppers of the past, who were early to buy, are the people shopping online,’ the bookseller said. ‘They know what they want and have plenty of time. So I think November sales are never going to go back to the heady days of the past.’
One Tasmanian indie bookseller reported their store experienced ‘a good lead up in November’. ‘November’s figures were up on last year—partly helped by very good author events. But even without them, I was pleased with the month,’ the bookseller said. ‘December is so far a little behind, but the way the calendar works out people think they have the full week before Christmas’.
Several booksellers also mentioned using events and other promotions to boost sales. ‘We have had some pop-up stores and more events than last year and still about the same so far,’ said one Queensland-based bookseller. ‘So we’re working harder for [the] same result.’ Another indie thankful for the sales boost from events reported ‘no trend or general build-up for general sales’ in their West Australian shop. ‘We have continued with in-store events later than normal, and with the planned VIP nights, it has bought some welcome sales numbers,’ the bookseller said.
Periods of wet and hot weather may have dented the start to the selling season for Melbourne bookstores. Tim White from Books for Cooks said trade in Melbourne is slightly down. ‘Two weeks of bad weather (heat and then rain) have had an effect,’ White said. Similarly, Readings’ Mark Rubbo said: ‘The timing of Christmas Day this year and the hot and wet spell in Melbourne the week before last has had an impact’.
A couple of stores that have had disappointing years said Christmas looked to be following that same trend. ‘It has been a very slow start for Christmas for us, following a year in which we have been down in sales all year,’ reported one Melbourne store, while another in Western Australia said it had been a ‘disappointing start to December but previous months were also poor’.
‘All year we have been behind in sales, but I have no particular knowledge of why, other than retail in general is down,’ said one Victorian indie.
Christmas rush slow to start
For the second year in a row, the majority of booksellers (62%) are reporting a later-than-usual Christmas rush. It’s down slightly on last year, when 79% reported the rush was later than usual, with more stores reporting that the rush is about the same as last year (31%, up from 17%) and six percent reporting the rush is earlier (up from four percent).
Sophie Higgins from Dymocks said: ‘The real lift was not felt until 1 December this year for most of the Dymocks store network’. ‘After 15 December we expect an even bigger boost as those precious book gifts can no longer be reliably bought online,’ Higgins said.
Elaine Medhurst from Just Books in Lakes Entrance, Victoria, also noted the impact of online sales on the rush. ‘I thinks it’s internet buying, [we] feel like a last resort,’ said Medhurst. Jon Page from Sydney’s Pages & Pages agreed: ‘With the increase in Black Friday and Cyber Monday promotions, the start of Christmas shopping has been pushed back to the beginning of December now’.
One Sydney indie store asserted that the slow start to the season seemed to be true across the retail sector. ‘Several weeks in November all of the local shopping village was quiet … no-one knows where all the customers were!’ the bookseller said.
In Adelaide, there were other factors influencing the timing of the Christmas rush. ‘The key event is the Christmas pageant in Adelaide and that’s been delayed by one week,’ said one bookseller. ‘People have pushed their timelines out by a week.’
Read more from the survey: