WellUrban

Personal reflections on urbanism, urban life and sustainable urban design in Wellington, New Zealand.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Borderline

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My spies tell me that the northern end of Capital on the Quay will indeed become a two-level Borders bookstore. According to a message sent to staff at nearby buildings, the construction work is due to be completed in February next year, but it might be a while after that before the shop actually opens.

It will take up 2000 square metres of floor space, and while that's about average for a Borders outlet, it's big by inner Wellington retail standards. At a rough guess, I'd say that's about twice the size of the nearby branch of Whitcoulls, and with any luck more of it will be taken up by actual books rather than DVDs and novelty wrapping paper. It's comparable to the ground floor of Kirkcaldie & Stains or the entire retail space of the Chews Lane precinct!

So, given my support for small independent shops, you'll be expecting me to rail against this invasion by a vast multinational. Actually, I'm not really against it. While I'm no fan of their aggressive anti-union stance, their use of spooky surveillance technology, their reputation for driving out independent booksellers or their Starbucks-like ubiquity, there's definitely something to be said for really big bookshops with big collections. As much as I love Unity, Dymocks or Parsons, I miss having a bookshop with more than a couple of shelves of architecture books. The last time I visited, the Auckland branch had a wider collection of contemporary American poetry than Unity's Auckland shop, despite the latter's reputation as the intellectuals' bookshop of choice. Not only that, they host regular poetry readings, so they're not quite the homogenous giant that they might seem.

So, I'm cautiously optimistic that Wellington's bookreading public is big and diverse enough to support this megastore without driving the independents out of business. Our local Dymocks (while it's a large Australian chain, our branch has developed its own character) has its unique focus on Weta collectables and advanced geekery; Unity specialises in gay and lesbian topics as well as supporting New Zealand literature; and Parsons has a strong following for its classical music offerings. If anyone has a right to feel threatened by Borders, it's Whitcoulls.

12 Comments:

At 6:49 PM, October 12, 2006, Anonymous George Darroch said...

But does Wellington or Lambton Quay really need another store selling music?

If it has any effect on the other music retailers, hopefully it's the relatively bland chainstores on Lambton Quay that feel the impact.

 
At 12:22 AM, October 13, 2006, Anonymous cm said...

Maybe you'll get a Paperchase stationers like we get in the UK...

Borders, Waterstones etc.... are very comprehensive but I'm suspicious. They have these incredibly contrived hand-scrawled staff recommendations, to try to persuade you of the input and book zeal of the staff - but the scope for this is fairly limited.

This is because these stores have centralised buying, which means that regional managers and managers have very little say over the stock. You might get a cursory 'NZ' section, but I bet you it's the same as the one in Auckland. And for every few local/niche/indie titles they're able to buy in, there'll be many thousand Cloud Atlases, Dan Browns etc...

That said, it's a nice thing for Wellington to be considered important enough for one - and it might create a backlash which will help the indie bookstores a bit more. This has happened somewhat in London - neighbourhood book shops being patronised (in both senses of the word) by Guardian types who revile the bigger chains, but of course still use Amazon for their much-reduced hardbacks!

 
At 8:07 AM, October 13, 2006, Blogger Hadyn said...

Borders didn't manage to remove Whitcoulls from Queen St, but then it is in a dumb place (the iMax centre).

Studies on stores like Borders has also found that they don't make the majority of their money from selling 1000 Da Vinci Codes a day, but rather from the "long tail" books. They have single copies of books that maybe one person will want and knows they can find by going to Borders rather than ordering it from another outlet. So you want a book on Cantonese/Morroccan fusion cuisine you know Borders will have at least one copy.

If I was to have chain bookstore I would rather Borders than Whitcoulls. Both are more multi-media stores than bookstores but Borders seems to be able to grasp the concept better. There is that patriotism that says "go for the NZ company" but I'm just going to ignore that this time.

If only Borders would be nicer to its employees.

 
At 10:44 AM, October 13, 2006, Anonymous Mike said...

I'd love to have a bigger bookshop around; Dymocks has a lot of good stuff (particularly for my technologically-inclined bent), but it just doesn't match up in range to the Dymocks in... well, anywhere, it's too small. It's a pain having to order in basically everything. I love the huge ones in Sydney, I would go all the way there just for those.

 
At 2:15 PM, October 13, 2006, Blogger Jo Hubris said...

If people must buy their CDs on Lambton Quay, then I think I would rather they bought them at Borders than the CD Store who donate to the Maxim Institute.

Of course, I'd generally prefer that people bought their CDs from somewhere like www.smokecds.com though.

 
At 3:02 PM, October 13, 2006, Blogger Tom said...

George: I guess Borders does sell music, but I never really thought of it as a music retailer, just as a very large bookshop.

CM: I think I'm more with Hadyn & Mike on this one. Maybe they won't have much of a NZ section, but places like Unity will still cover that market with their usual zeal. They will, however, have a much wider collection of more general interest books, extening some way into the "long tail" that Hadyn mentions. Sure, you could always order from Unity/Dymocks et al, but it's nice to browse, especially with non-fiction or technical books. Local flavour is important, but so it being part of the international world of knowledge.

For example, I'd say that 80% of the books on architecture and urban design that I own have either been bought when I was travelling overseas, or ordered form Amazon. That's not out of choice: it's just because Wellington bookshops have such a tiny range. On my brief visit to Borders' Auckland branch (just after they opened) they had a much bigger range of architecture books than anywhere in Wellington. And the Oxford Rd branch had about half a dozen bays on the subject, whereas our Dymocks (which has the biggest local selection) has just a few shelves. Ours won't be as big as that, but I expect that in architecture (as just one example of a non-localised but specialised topic) it will increase the number of titles available in the city.

Ideally, I'd love to have dozens of quirky independent bookshops scattered throughout the city, the way that London has specialist shops for cookbooks, gardening books, travel books, architecture books (at RIBA) and erotic comics (or so I'm told). While we occasionally get such places (Bookfeat in Petone, the branch of VUW books that used to be on upper Cuba & specialised in design books), we're not really big enough. So, a megastore like Borders should widen the browsable range overall, but if you want personal recommendations, I'd like to think that Wellingtonians are savvy enough to stick to Unity etc.

 
At 3:59 AM, October 14, 2006, Anonymous cm said...

Fair enough, it's easy to say when you're in London and have masses of indies as well as big chains...

When you getting a Wagamama then?

 
At 5:07 PM, October 14, 2006, Blogger Maximus said...

We've got the best system around for encouraging you to buy Architectural books.... Aalto Books in Auckland (ie John Balasogalu) comes right to our office with a fine selection of new books, spreads them out on the table, and sits back as the architects drool over them and then order bucket loads. Seems to work quite well both for us (convenience) and him (20+ sales in a 30 minute spot!) - not as cheap as Amazon i'm sure, but still damn good value.

 
At 5:12 PM, October 14, 2006, Blogger Maximus said...

CM: actually, i think there are already two Wagamama's in Auckland - High St and Newmarket. Not sure if it is the real deal however, or just an Auckland ripoff. Looks real enough.

I used ot go to Waga's first outlet in London way back when - glad to see its gone global...

 
At 11:57 AM, October 16, 2006, Blogger Tom said...

cm: yes, I miss London's independent and specialty shops (Bookartbooks and Artwords bookshop in Shoreditch, Zwemmers in Charing Cross Rd, that cluster in Notting Hill), and Ideally I'd love dozens of those throughout Wellington! But at city of 500k will never support that variety, so if a megastore like Borders does serve to increase the range even slightly, I'm for it.

I'm not that keen on Wagamama's (thouhg some could argue that Chow has taken some of their philosophy and added booze!), but there are some international chains that I wouldn't mind in Wellington. Muji springs to mind, as does Paul Smith.

 
At 3:04 PM, October 16, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm with Tom on the range at Borders - the one thing I have missed since leaving Auckland and returning to Wellington is the architecture section of Borders - Dymocks, Wellington Technical Books, Parsons, etc, have nothing on this giant...

 
At 2:32 PM, October 17, 2006, Blogger Mike said...

Oooh, best news I've read for a long time (I like reading ;-)

 

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