Collapse of iconic Adelaide bookstore Mary Martin highlights ongoing pain in book market

The collapse of an iconic South Australian book retailer has highlighted the bleak nature of the bookselling market, which is propped up by a growing number of independent retailers, experts say.


The collapse of the Mary Martin Bookshop in Adelaide comes 18 months after the country’s two giants, Borders and Angus & Robertson, collapsed and shut their stores. Now, only two major chains remain with a spattering of smaller stores.


IBISWorld analyst Naren Sivasailam told SmartCompany this morning book retailers are having to increasingly find something new to differentiate them in a market that is perhaps the most exposed to online selling.


“It’s pretty bleak right now, but having said that, a bunch of niche retailers have concentrated on adding a value bundle.”


“So they’ve complemented their offering with records, and cafes, and so on, to give some sort of reason for consumers to walk through the stores as opposed to walking through a labyrinth like Borders.”


The Mary Martin Bookshop was placed in liquidation last week after 67 years of trade. The store was originally opened by Mary Martin and literary icon Max Harris. Although the ownership of the store has been in new hands for quite some time, the store has played host to key political and literary discussion in its time, and has since expanded into other capital cities.


Reports indicate the store collapsed owing more than $1 million. Liquidator Clifton Hall was contacted by SmartCompany this morning, but a reply wasn’t received before publication.


The bookselling market has been in a downward spiral with sales of electronic books cannabalising print. Booksellers also blame restrictions such as parallel importation rules for the downturn.


However, some deny the pain – Australian Booksellers’ Association president Jon Page told SmartCompany this morning the environment is tough for all retailers, and not just booksellers.


“I think that Mary Martin Bookshop on Adelaide going into administration is indicative of the tough retail environment not the book industry specifically.”


“In fact, figures for the last three months show that sales of print books are on the increase in Australia after 18 months of contraction and it looks like being a strong Christmas for bookshops.”


Dymocks managing director Steve Cox agrees, saying retail in general is more of a pressure than any falling book sales – although he admits the market is tight.


“Individual businesses close for a variety of reasons. Retail in Australia has been through a challenging period, but we’re seeing tremendous results across a number of stores.”


“Certainly, we see a lot of strength waiting for books and books and general. People are reading more than ever. We have a positive outlook.”


Cox also says independent retailers need to differentiate themselves in order to survive – which is all the more critical for booksellers.


“It’s all about a strong differentiated offer, and focus on the customer, if you strive to create value that is recognisable and create a differentiated position in the market, then there is plenty of opportunity.”


But there is no doubt bookstores are struggling, especially as online sellers like Booktopia continue to thrive – managing director Tony Nash has claimed the company is turning over more than $20 million.


But Naren Sivasailam says the market overall is “pretty uninspiring”.


“The transformation and consumption of media online has gone quite badly for printed books, and obviously that’s alongside the dramatic growth in eReaders and Kindle-type devices.”


“The best analogy is in the fall of the department store behemoths, like David Jones and Myer.”


This story first appeared on SmartCompany.


Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
SmartCompany Plus

Sign in

To connect a sign in method the email must match the one on your SmartCompany Plus account.
Or use your email
Forgot your password?

Want some assistance?

Contact us on: or call the hotline: +61 (03) 8623 9900.