Week 19/20 – week ending 8 May

Elliott Advisors buys Wordery

Elliott Advisors, owner of Waterstones and Barnes & Noble, has bought Wordery, the online bookselling division of wholesaler Bertrams. Wordery will be a separate business from Waterstones.

James Daunt, Waterstones CEO, told the BBC last week that the chain’s online sales were up 1,500% since the Covid-19 lockdown.

Bertrams is owned by the equity group Aurelius, which said it was “reviewing its strategic options” for the wholesaler, for schoolbook supplier Education Umbrella, and for academic supplier Dawson Books. However, a note in the Sunday Times yesterday said that Bertrams was to appoint administrators.

The lockdown compelled Bertrams to announce a temporary closure of its book supply business from 1 April.

Booktopia sees pandemic-driven sales boom

Tony Nash, Booktopia’s ceo, says: “Booktopia’s revenue is up 80% year-on-year in March and April and we have had to cut our marketing budget in half to keep sales down to the current growth levels.

“It is bittersweet for us, to have such high demand for our stock, when others are struggling. We will always grapple with that fact. We hope it is very short term and our demand drops and everything returns to the status quo. We can never offer the same face-to-face service that you get when you are in a bookstore when someone is helping you with your next purchase. It is important that stores open up as soon as possible.

“However, I think it is important to let the UK market know that there are pockets of opportunity. Fundamentally it comes down to this, in Australia, Booktopia is the dominant online book retailer and that’s all we do, sell books. Amazon rightfully had to prioritise ‘essentials’ as part of their effort here as they have done in Europe and North America. That’s been a huge opportunity for them in Australia because they have not grown as fast as people thought.

“I think it is important for all publishers to consider their avenues to market and make sure they do not have all their eggs in one basket especially when it comes to Amazon and the huge discount chains.

“Furthermore, Booktopia is also a distributor and represents publishers from around the world in the Australian market. Publishers who appointed us as their ANZ representative have benefited greatly from the relationship. Booktopia proved through the GFC it was recession proof and in 2020 it has proven that it is pandemic proof.”

Booktopia is Australia’s largest online bookstore, with over 150,000 items in stock, ready to ship, and access to over 5,000,000 titles. The business posted revenues of $131m in 2019 and is on track for revenues of $170m this year. That performance would almost certainly edge it ahead of the number one book retailer in Australia, Woolworth-owned Big W. In February, Booktopia secured future growth with $20m cash injection.

Meanwhile, Booktopia has contacted its 2 million email subscribers, inviting them to watch the Australian Book Industry Awards, which are going online this year. Booktopia will alert them to the event, which is being televised live via the ABIA’s YouTube Channel on 13 May at 4pm.

Nash said: “Why not! So many of us are at home in isolation. This is a great opportunity for the book loving community of Australia to be part of the announcements live. In many ways, the finalists wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t for the passion and praise from the public, so it is awesome to have the opportunity to invite everyone to this year’s ceremony. Lots of Australians have expressed to us that they want to support this industry during this time, and this is an easy and powerful way for them to do so.”

The Australian Book Industry Awards were launched in 2006 and the event is normally only attended by industry leaders, publishers, agents, printers, authors and dignitaries. Nash said: “This year we are turning the pandemic restrictions on their head – for the first time, the ABIAs are completely unrestricted! We think the book-loving public are going to really enjoy this ceremony, and hope it will lead to deeper community engagement with the ABIAs in years to come.”

This year’s awards will feature Judy Nunn, Leigh Sales, Anita Heiss, Julia Gillard, Kate Ritchie, Richard Harris, Casey Bennetto and a performance from singer, songwriter and author, Clare Bowditch.

Booktopia has been nominated for Book Retailer of the Year category, which it has won three times previously.