Perth bookstores Typeface and Oxford Street Books introduce subscription financing models


But after it opened in 2020, COVID drove out its main personal clientele — the affluent suburban demographic, meaning its best customers are elderly people who buy children’s books “to get their grandkids off their devices” — and wrecked their event schedules and destroyed her profits.

She made a profit of $10,000 in 2021 with no sick leave and a week’s vacation.

Handwritten recommendations from Hall and her family are part of the service. Recognition:Cameron Myles

Hall’s mother volunteers as a shop assistant one day a week so she can continue to open on Saturdays but doesn’t have to work a six-day week.

Hall has built social media accounts, book club connections, a service people sign up for to receive a special box with a coordinated book, tea and chocolate offerings, and has connected with other booksellers to share ideas, but that is not enough. Costs are going up, but book prices aren’t, and while Kmart and Big W can beat the suggested retail price, independent companies can’t.

Hall’s savings are slowly dwindling. The shop is difficult to justify.

“Other bookstore [owners] could have a partner who works as well, or some other source of income, and they can handle a vanity project,” she said.

“There’s definitely no money in there.”

She saw that Oxford Street Books had reached 27 percent of its goal of just over 6,000 subscriptions and decided to give it a try.

“I’ve pointed out that if people want an independent bookstore in their suburb, they might need to support it,” she said.

“A membership for $5 a month gives them a 10 percent discount and a free pre-reading copy…it certainly doesn’t make a lot of money, it’s maybe $300 a month, but it creates a sense of community.

“You have words of affirmation out there… all those beautiful words keep me going.

Booksellers across the city — and across the country — are diversifying to stay afloat, but it's taking a personal toll.

Booksellers across the city — and across the country — are diversifying to stay afloat, but it’s taking a personal toll. Recognition:Cameron Myles

“I’m just wondering if we need to look at bookstores as a different style of business; about something other than pure profit – a community resource that people pay for.”

Oxford Street Books has promised its members discounts, book clubs, priority access to regular events and a nightly meeting place, all to be run on a not-for-profit basis.

Jen Jackson, owner of Paperbird Books, the specialist children’s bookshop in Fremantle, brainstormed with Jane Seaton, President of the Australian Booksellers’ Association and owner of Beaufort Street Books on how to make bookshops more sustainable.


She said a decline in school libraries had lost a tremendous amount of the children’s book trade, which is why a shop like hers had to run a full program of events, which itself was a huge commitment.

She also said that a long-established practice in WA of public libraries sourcing collections predominantly from a central repository also eliminated a potential relationship between libraries and their local booksellers.

And with rising prices, wages and inflation, margins were getting tighter and something had to be found.

Jackson said several East Coast businesses have tried the not-for-profit, or cooperative, model and she believes the idea is viable.

“Another obvious solution to connecting the community with bookstores would be for libraries, bookstores and schools to build relationships and all of those relationships support each other,” she said.

“If the communities recognize that [their increased financial support] possibly the only way for these companies to survive will be a choice they will make.

“A bookstore can be a bit like the living room of the community, and when a bookstore closes, what a hole it leaves behind.”

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