Pitched as ‘your local bookstore’, Booktopia has capitalised on the drastic market changes caused by the digital revolution. Ten years since launch, we look at some of the events that formed this pureplay presence.
Launched by Tony Nash in 2004, Booktopia began with a $10-per-day budget as a small side project. Now the website has over 60,000 Facebook likes and more than 10,000 Twitter followers as it celebrates its 10th birthday.
Celebrating as any retail brand would, Booktopia is running a commemorative sale on a wide variety of items, and for some consumers, this may be the only significant outcome of the anniversary – but there is much more to the matter as we look beyond surface details.
In the ten years since Booktopia was born, the media retail category has continued to shift, losing value as traditionally physical items have become easier to download in digital form. Today, there aren’t many that can’t claim to have downloaded a movie, song or book from the internet – whether they paid for it or not is a subject of another discussion.
In many ways, the launch of Booktopia onto the local book sales scene was the final tolling of the bell for the traditional model for retailing these products in Australia. It was perhaps the first time that many of the general public became aware of the transformative effect the web was having on retail businesses. What were once large, wealthy bookstore chains began to feel the squeeze – and it wasn’t long before their physical outlets began closing one by one.
Even more ironic then that Nash was introduced to online book sales when working for his family’s internet marketing consultancy and happened to be approached by Angus & Robertson.
“We completed a project for Angus & Robertson and were introduced to the book industry by them,” Nash says. “In the first month we sold 60 books, or $2,000. By month four we were up to $30,000, after one year we were at $100,000 per month, two years on: $200,000 per month.”
The brand’s heavy growth hasn’t gone unrecognised, either. Booktopia has listed in BRW’s Fast 100 for five consecutive years, from 2009 to 2013. As its star ascended, the fortunes of its slower-moving, traditional peers was on the decline, and Booktopia began to pitch itself as the ‘local bookstore’ for all consumers that no longer had a physical bookstore nearby.
Perhaps the largest player in bricks-and-mortar books sales internationally at the turn of the millennium, Borders bookstores were sold to Pacific Equity Group in 2008 as a result of declining profit margins. By 2012, the Borders brand was practically non-existent, having shut down all physical outlets the year previously. Borders’ online properties were at this time rebranded as Bookworld.
“Our sales lifted by 20 percent the day after Borders closed,” says Nash. “We had no idea that would happen when we first started out, but we were more than happy to make the most of it when it did.”
When we look at the Australian book sales landscape today, we see the indelible mark that online has left on an industry. While a few of the traditional brands have transformed their offering into multichannel models – the likes of Dymocks and Angus & Robertson – sales are now greatly fragmented, shared by not only local pureplays like Booktopia and Bookworld, but also by international retailers like the UK-based Book Depository and US giant Amazon (which now happens to own Book Depository anyway). How these brands will fare as time goes on is anyone’s guess, but Nash believes a firm focus on the customer experience will be the difference between sustainability and a slow death.
“Since we began, Booktopia’s number one priority has simply been to improve the customer experience a little bit, as every month goes by. My goal is that for any given month, we should aim for 50 percent more sales than in the same month the previous year – and this allows us to ensure we’re not cutting corners when it comes to our service offering and at the same time manage our fast organic growth as best we can”, he explains.
“When we started, this was something of a foreign concept for bookstores. I can’t tell you how much time I spent doing research in Borders and not once was approached by a sales assistant to ask if I needed any help. No retail business will survive for long in the current environment with that kind of attitude.”
It’s been ten years since Booktopia launched. It’s incredible growth may have been in part motivated by a business environment in flux, but we can’t say that the upheaval is complete.
What will the next ten years have in store for this industry? For now, we can only wait and watch to see what will become of our local bookstore.