In Melbourne, print matters for an independent bookstore

MELBOURNE -- In the aftermath of major bookstore shutdowns, an independent Melbourne book shop offers an alternative model.
Written by Lieu Thi Pham, Contributor

MELBOURNE -- As book retailers struggle to maintain a foothold in the volatile consumer market, Melbourne’s Perimeter Books are carving a modest niche for themselves.

Last year, while big name bookstores were closing their doors, Dan Rule and Justine Ellis launched Perimeter Books. Although the husband and wife team were aware of the lack of financial incentive in opening a small business based on independent books, they remained steadfast in their endeavors.

Rule, an art and music journalist, uses the analogy of the record industry to describe their situation: “The record never died, that’s a fallacy. The record has an income stream for large companies with large staff --  that’s where the record died. Independent record companies have thrived and that’s what seems to be happening in the book industry.”

Located in the Melbourne suburb of Thornbury, Perimeter Books houses over 500 small press and independent titles from all over the world, across the subject areas of design, architecture, art and photography. Rule and Ellis are purveyors of unusual and beautiful books and their collection reflects this.

Atlas of Conflict

At Perimeter Books, visitors can find printed gems such as Malkit Shoshan’s Atlas of Conflict, a visual analysis of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; Rinko Kawuchi’s Hanabi, a study of fireworks in Japan; andBechir Kezari’s Architecture and Violence, a book which looks at the relationship between the built environment and social oppression.

Ellis, a photographer and retail consultant, says it’s this “narrow” focus on books, namely their personal selection of titles, that distinguishes their business from others. “We offer a well-curated niche selection of things that have not been well represented or even represented at all in Australia,” she says.

Ellis and Dan started the business with around (AUS)$10,000, renovating and building the shop front in four months. The shop front is rented from Rule’s ex-employer and book distributorRobyn Ralton who owns Modern Journal.

Although sales are slow, they're steady; the couple reveal that they’re making enough to self-fund the business and even invest in initiatives such as the soon-to-be launched Perimeter Editions, the publishing arm of the business that will see them collaborate with artists and designers on a range of book projects.

The bookstore also moonlights as a gallery, online shop and independent publishing house -- a business model that has proven financially viable thus far. Rule says that Perimeter, like many others of its kind, is “re-framing” what it is to be a bookshop.


“You see that overseas where studio spaces bleed into retail," Rule says. "In Melbourne, the Compound Interest is a classic example...pulling together small resources to make something a lot bigger.”

“It’s so removed from the traditional business model it’s hardly a business at all,” Rule says. “Not having expectations of making any money. It’s part of a wider suite of thing that we do.”

Rule also offersUtrecht in Tokyo andPrinted Matter in New York as role models. “These are businesses that don’t make any real profit. It’s more important to create a cultural service, “ he says.

One of the duo’s continual challenges is to encourage public appreciation for these rare titles. One way they do this is to ensure that each title is accompanied by a blurb, a demonstration of their curatorial practice.

“It’s not just about books being slotted onto the shelves. We wanted to create a platform that was conducive to small press art books,” he says.

Although it’s still early days for Perimeter Books, Rule and Ellis are positive that their small bookstore will thrive as community engagement, and appreciation, for small press grows.

Rule says it best: “Every aspect of community feeds off each other, opening the store helps people make books, and people making books, helps us sell books.”

Photos: Warwick Baker

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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