The company behind bookstores Borders and Angus and Robertson is in a lot of financial trouble at the moment. While they've been granted a slight stay of execution, they're in administration, and things aren't looking good. But given that Borders is the driving force behind eBook and eReader sales in Australia, what will happen to the budding electronic book market should RedGroup go completely under?
According to Jason Davis, the man behind Australian eBook site BookBee, Kobo will come to the rescue. "Canadian-based ebook vendor Kobo pretty much are ebooks in Australia - at least in terms of local ebookstores. Kobo powers REDgroup's ebook offerings - Borders and A&R in Australia and Whitcoulls in New Zealand. They also do the publishing deals with the local publishers, so they would be in a position to step in very quickly should the REDgroup brands wink out of existence here. Really, the only thing that the local companies bring to the partnership is the local digitising and computer infrastructure to run the site," Davis told us.
Of course, Kobo may be the biggest player, but they aren't the only option out there. Dymocks actually launched eBooks in Australia back in 2007, but aren't playing the same game as Kobo and Amazon are. This opens the door for startups to enter the market, according to Davis.
"The playing field has never been more level, that's why small local collectives like SPUNC can start selling ebooks - the barrier to entry is low." Davis said. But the catch is that the chances of a new company rising up to dominate in the potential ashes of Borders is incredibly low. "I don't think a new player can dominate here, because the market is global now," Davis said. "That's what a lot of publishers aren't grasping yet. Geographic copyright and restrictions are only stifling the sales of ebooks, not protecting them. Global players will continue to dominate the ebook market here, no matter what happens with REDgroup."
Which brings us to the Amazon question. Will the US online book giant be aggressive in taking advantage of the demise of Borders, should RedGroup be unable to dig themselves out of their financial hole? Davis think yes.
"I would expect a local Amazon store by the end of the year, and definitely an Amazon Android tablet (there's already an Amazon distribution centre in New Zealand). Hardware sales will be fine, especially with Amazon dominating the market with low cost, great ereaders. The Kobo ereader was OK, but hardware is not Kobo's strong suit. Only Amazon can really complete with the ultra-cheap Chinese clones."
So while we sit back and wait for the RedGroup administrators do their best to try and salvage what they can from wreck that is Borders and Angus & Robertson, there's a window of opportunity for both local and global companies to take advantage of the situation, and potentially turn the market into a massive success locally.