Christmas sales are tracking at similar levels to last year for the majority of booksellers (60%), with slightly more stores (21%) reporting an increase in sales than those (19%) reporting a decrease. The results are similar to last year’s, when 65% of booksellers reported similar sales, 14% reported an increase and 22% reported a decrease on the previous year. These results continue the trend of steady pre-Christmas sales we’ve seen in survey results over the past three years.
This year Books+Publishing received feedback from representatives of just over 180 independent, online and chain bookshops around Australia.
The majority of bookstores (80%) reported that sales so far are close to their expectations, which is in line with the sales tracking at similar levels for most stores. Sales are better than expected for 17% of stores surveyed, and just three percent of bookstores are experiencing worse-than-expected sales. This is a welcome reversal of last year’s results, when sales were worse than expected for 13% of stores, and only eight percent of bookstores were selling better than expected.
Of those experiencing better sales than expected, 16% were indies and 17% were chains, while the three percent of stores that experienced worse sales than expected comprised wholly indies and no chain stores.
Overall, booksellers are positive about the Christmas selling season, with many pointing to a strong line-up of new releases bolstering sales. Annie Waters, manager at Adelaide’s Mostly Books, said, ‘With so many amazing titles, the lead-up to Christmas has been very positive so far,’ and Ruth Ellis, a book buyer for bookselling chain WHSmith, commented, ‘Even if you [take] out our new stores, we’re seeing strong growth driven by the strong new releases this year and better stock management practices across our stores.’
Readings managing director Mark Rubbo agreed. ‘We felt that the offering was strong and that with our two renovations our result would be better Christmas than last year, so we expected some growth and so far we are getting it.’
Phillip Schwebel, owner of Collins Booksellers Orange, said sales are exceeding his expectations this year, despite a challenging retail environment. ‘With drought, government changes, uncertainty of the economy I was fearing a downturn, but we started earlier than last year and [are] holding up well,’ he said.
However, several stores are still hoping for a strong finish in the week leading up to Christmas. Dymocks Adelaide owner Mandy Macky noted her store seems a ‘bit quieter’ than last year. ‘[I] expect we are seeing the effect of more online shopping and Black Friday and Cyber Monday,’ she said.
Dymocks general manager Sophie Higgins observed: ‘After a very strong October with some of the best releases we have seen slated for Christmas, November has been more challenging. More and more bricks-and-mortar book sales move into December every year, so we are still expecting a strong finish!’
Other stores noted alternative ways of attracting customers. ‘We do Santa Photos and they do well and we pick up faster than other businesses in town,’ said Josh McPhee, owner of Inverell’s The Dust Jacket bookshop. ‘We’ll always be a destination because we’re a bookstore,’ he said, noting, ‘the drought is a big factor.’
Some respondents that are expecting a slow Christmas period pointed to larger trends over time. A regional NSW bookshop owner said, ‘It’s been a slow year and a slow start to Christmas,’ noting that ‘the collapse of ABC online and the impending end of ABC Centres, along with the end of DVDs, has made a huge impact upon us with our ABC Centre stock.’
A Perth book buyer summarised his shop’s predicament by saying, ‘We knew it was a downturn, yet you’re disappointed by it—but it’s the economic reality,’ while Damian Morgan, owner of Launceston’s Stories Bookshop, observed that, for his store, ‘sales are much worse than they were a decade ago’.
Christmas rush getting ‘later every year’
For the third year in a row, the majority of booksellers (71%) reported a later-than-usual Christmas rush. This figure is up slightly on last year, when 62% reported the rush was later than usual. This year, fewer stores reported that the rush is about the same as last year (24%, down from 31%), and five percent reported the rush is earlier this year (down slightly from six percent).
Christopher Pearce from the Hobart Bookshop summarised many booksellers’ sentiments by saying the rush ‘seems to get later every year’. A Perth-based book buyer said: ‘Sales start to increase (a slow uptake) in November, but “rush” is a generous term. The insanity gets later and later every year, when people have lost their opportunity to buy online.’
Several booksellers pointed to the growing influence of Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales, with Dymocks general manager Sophie Higgins saying the traditionally American sales are ‘becoming more and more of a phenomenon in Australian retail’. She added: ‘The Christmas rush for bricks-and-mortar stores is likely to continue to peak in the last weeks of December! Support from publishers in continuing to support reprints of key titles and be able to turn around replenishment close to the finish line is crucial.’
Readings’ Mark Rubbo also noted that Black Friday did ‘dampen sales over that weekend and our online sales have been down since then’.
A few Victorian booksellers mentioned the state election slowing down the start of Christmas sales, while in Hobart, the bumping forward of the city’s annual Christmas parade brought the rush forward by about a week, according to Area 52 manager Andrew Schwartz.
One bookseller said their store was ‘losing the rush because of HEDS warehouse issues’, a common complaint about this year’s supply of Christmas stock.
Read more from the survey: