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Are bookstores dying in Australia?

It is often said that you don’t always notice change when it is happening slowly in front of your eyes. Only after a significant amount of change can you really see the true effects. This makes me think about how detached I have become from my birth country, Australia. I don’t get to visit it too often, I don’t use English every day, and it is not a simple matter of not being able to consume Australian T.V. series or movies, but that I no longer know they exist. I listened to the Triple J Hottest 100 this year and felt the acute effects of living away from Australia. I barely recognised the songs, the culture behind them, or why they had become so popular. However, rather than being the eternal pessimist, I do see an advantage to live away from Australia. When I go back, the changes that everyone struggles to notice as they transpire under their very noses are the changes that look jarring and drastic to me.

The dynamics of the hospitality and consumer industries are forever changing: shops open, shops close. Usually a bar is replaced by another bar, restaurants with more restaurants, and the life cycle continues. However, my last trip made me wonder: Are bookstores dying in Australia? If I compare Australia with Switzerland, my small village town has three bookstores, one news agency store, and two department stores that sell books. The population of this village was measured at approximately 17,500 in 2008. If I think about Zurich, Switzerland’s largest city, there are bookstores at every corner. There are indie stores, language specific stores, big chain stores, bookstores with coffee shops inside (like the Barnes and Noble/Starbucks of the U.S.A).

I went to a few cities on my last trip home to Oz and noticed how many stores had closed and how few stores had taken their place. Many bookstores I saw felt like they had 10,000 copies of “50 Shades of Grey”, and that was about it. If the store was giving off an ‘alternative’ it meant that it had a larger variety of books, but the prices were so high it would sometimes cost 30 AUD for a paperback! How can people afford this? I don’t know how much the rise of online bookstores has affected the Australian book selling market, but I just know that Australia needs bookstores. They were a safe haven and a magical place for me to visit as a child and teenager (along with my local library). It was where I went to spend time with friends and find new stories. My heart breaks at the thought that this opportunity could be lost for generations to come. Browsing an Amazon webpage is not the same as flicking through the different cover designs of a book you want to buy in a store until you have found the right one for you.

After looking through some statistics from Australia, Better-Beginnings states that 44% of Australian adults do not have the literacy skills they need to cope with the every day demands of life and work. This cannot be allowed to continue. I can’t help but wonder if there might be a link between Australia’s literacy problems and our culture towards reading and education in general. Not to mention the decline in bookstores.

My Father always told me that you shouldn’t teach people facts and figures. You should teach them how to learn. You should teach them to want to learn and expand their minds. What better place to start this than in a bookstore?

Do you think Australia’s bookstores are closing more and more? And what do you think about the state of literacy in Australia? As always, remember to share the reading love.

3 thoughts on “Are bookstores dying in Australia?

  1. It’s saddening and maddening. I remember living out in country NSW and taking refuge in the one (albeit very expensive) bookstore there (and being tentatively offered a job, before they discovered I was only 13! Heartbreaking stuff). I’d be willing to bet money on that store having gone out of business. With bookstores in the cities closing, there seems no hope for small country towns. And there’s something inherently dangerous in this fact.

    • I must admit that owning/working in a bookstore has always been a dream of mine. However, in the kind of climate we are in, I wonder how well that would go.
      I completely agree with you about the lack of stores and therefore the lack of reading opportunities. Books and the ability to read a so important for modern living.

      • I think your father was spot on with the idea of teaching people how to learn. In my courses, I try to encourage the students to think and ask questions instead of regurgitating course content. Living in Paris has also made me very aware of how few book stores we still have in Australia! Paris is crammed with them which is wonderful!