Online retailers, not e-books, threat to bookstores

Cheaper book prices by online bookstores from lower operating costs put pressure on brick-and-mortar bookshop owners aiming to stay in business, say market players, who add e-books not immediate threat.

Competition from Web-based bookstores and high costs of managing a physical retail outlet were cited by industry players as contributing factors to more bookshops closing down in Singapore in recent months, adding that e-books are not a business threat yet.

Both Harris Bookstore, which is owned by Popular Holdings, and Page One will cease operations in Singapore on Feb. 19, according to local reports. Their departures from the industry follow after the footsteps of Borders, which wound up its Singapore operations in September last year.

Mazmur Andreas, spokesperson for Singapore-based online bookstore OpenTrolley, said the closing of these brick-and-mortar bookstores are likely to be caused by the increasing presence and popularity of online bookstores. This is because e-tailers are able to offer more competitive pricing for their products, which attracts bulk buyers, he explained.

Thus, physical stores are left with a less lucrative market in which buyers would purchase books at a higher price but lower quantities, he noted.

The costs involved to run a physical retail outlet was cited as another reason for more bookstores closing down. Kenny Leck, co-founder and co-owner of BooksActually, told ZDNet Asia that the major expense for running the store was for the rental of the promise, followed by the cost of bringing in its stock of books.

E-books no immediate threat
Asked if e-books posed a similar threat to bookshops, both Andreas and Leck said no.

Andreas said OpenTrolley's business has been brisker in 2011 than 2010, and people are still buying books because e-books are not yet readily available in Asia due to licensing issues.

The e-book titles available today are limited and there are not many good e-readers in the market, too."Apple's iPad doesn't sell e-books in Singapore yet, except those free, out-of-royalty old titles," he added.

Leck added that being a new industry, the e-book market still needs sorting and stabilizing. "For most companies that have dived wholeheartedly into e-books, they have not seen big money to be earned from it," he noted. Amazon is an exception though, due to its popular Kindle e-readers, the co-owner said.

He also said the company would not enter into the e-book market in the near future, as he is still waiting to see a Singapore-based company make its first million in net profit from selling e-books.

"Until I see that, then there is no point in making the switch. It is easier to make a first million selling real books, even now," Leck said.

That said, Andreas believes that e-books will replace physical books one day because of its convenience, likening the transition to that of the music industry, in which digital music has slowly replaced CDs.

Twitter user @meerajane is one consumer who has made the switch from physical books to e-books, and said her spending in physical bookstores has "definitely dropped". "Amazon makes it too easy to sample and purchase!" she said.

But Andreas believed that there will still be book titles that are best read in print form as well as people who prefer to own books instead of e-books, just like, CD lovers who will resist buying digital music.

Despite the prediction, he stressed that there will still be titles which are best read printed as well as readers who prefer to have physical books. Similarly in the music industry, CDs will survive but the majority will switch to buying digital music, he said.


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