Free Market Threatens Diversity, Says Former CEO of Borders UK

In Digital, Frankfurt 2011 by Andrew Wilkins

By Andrew Wilkins

With physical bookstores in English-language markets in “terminal” decline, a small number of companies with “no history with books” dominating the consumer book market, and “insane” pricing of books and e-books, the free market had gone too far, suggested the man who oversaw the rise and fall of Borders in the United Kingdom, Philip Downer.

Speaking during the EDItEUR-convened Supply Chain Track at the Tools of Change Frankfurt conference, Downer, now a retail consultant, pointed to the more protected and regulated European book markets as places where diversity in publishing and bookselling was being protected, in contrast to the UK, where Amazon is now selling 30% of all printed books, and the vast majority of e-books.

Presenting a sobering and hard-hitting summary of recent events in bookselling and publishing, Downer warned publishers who longed for a return to the good old days that it was “na├»ve to assume people will always love books” and that there was a danger that the book would be “lost among a welter of apps on a tablet screen.”

He encouraged publishers and booksellers to work together to develop alternative sales channels to Apple, Amazon and Google and encouraged publishers to redefine their roles and hire more younger people.
“I’d like to see more 35-year-old CEOs in the industry,” he said.

Speaking after a presentation by Jonathan Nowell of Nielsen Book which reported continuing declines in print book sales across all the major markets it surveys (with the exception of Italy), Downer exhorted delegates not to lose “what was special about books.”

About the Author

Andrew Wilkins

Andrew Wilkins is the director of Wilkins Farago, an independent, Melbourne-based book publisher. Until 2008, he was publisher of Australia's book industry magazine, Bookseller+Publisher. He travels regularly throughout the Asia-Pacific region.