Booktopia played an important role in supporting Australian authors, who are lamenting its collapse

Booktopia played an important role in supporting Australian authors, who are lamenting its collapse
  • PublishedJuly 8, 2024

Author Nicola Moriarty is surprised and saddened that Australian book retailer Booktopia has gone into voluntary administration.

“I don’t know exactly how long it will be before it all finishes up or if there’s still any chance of anybody sweeping in to save it,” Moriarty told ABC News.

“I know my books are available in lots of other places, so I don’t feel bad for myself.

“I just feel bad for the staff at Booktopia because they have always been so lovely, welcoming, supportive.

“It’s nice to have an Australian-owned company as well.

“So, I’m more just sad for them, and because it built up over so many years from something quite small to start with to become such a huge operation. So, it’s disappointing to see it go.”

Moriarty had only just been at Booktopia’s Sydney headquarters a month ago to sign hundreds of copies of her new book Every Last Suspect.

She’s always enjoyed the experience of going in to sign books.

“They had homemade cookies, which was lovely, and it’s nice to have all the books set up on the table piled up in a big display, and then they set up a bit of a production line to pass each book across for you to sign.

“It’s always just felt like a fun experience.

“And then at the end, signing the Booktopia table as well, which makes you feel like you’re part of something, because you can see all the names of other people who’ve been in to sign books on the table too.”

Nicola Moriarty smiling broadly wearing a low cut floral shirt and suit jacket, brown hair, blueish eyes, earrings, brick wall
Nicola Moriarty is saddened by Booktopia going into voluntary administration.(Supplied: Sally Flegg)

If Moriarty’s name is familiar, it’s because she’s part of a family of writers.

She’s one of six siblings, three of whom are authors — including her older sister Liane, whose books Big Little Lies, Nine Perfect Strangers and Apples Never Fall have been adapted for screen.

Nicola Moriarty book cover for Every Last Suspect featuring colourful macaroons on a blue background
The protagonist in Every Last Suspect tries to figure out who killed her.(Supplied: HarperCollins Australia)

“We’re just very supportive of one another,” Moriarty says.

“But we are competitive when it comes to who gets family anecdotes to include in our books.”

Every Last Suspect opens with a woman lying face down on the floor, bleeding from the head. Knowing she hasn’t got long to live, she decides to spend the time she has left trying to work out who has killed her.

The book is listed as one of Booktopia’s bestselling books and is currently one of the top 10 bestselling titles by Australian authors in the country.

A tragedy for the Australian literary scene

Michael Brissenden is a name that will be familiar to ABC loyalists.

After more than 35 years with the broadcaster, the former North America correspondent now writes crime fiction.

His latest novel, Smoke, is also in the top 10.

Michael Brissenden with arms crossed, smiling slightly, long-sleeved blue shirt, black background
Michael Brissenden has described Booktopia’s demise as a tragedy.(Supplied: Mike Bowers)

“This one is set in California around a small town in the aftermath of a wildfire,” Brissenden told ABC News.

“It’s the story of an individual and a family and a community under pressure from climate change, from development activity, from corrupt councils, from all sorts of nefarious things going on in that town.

“But it was initially inspired by the big bushfires in NSW in 2019 and 2020. And my family has a little house on the south coast of NSW, which was the first place where the Currowan fire jumped the highway and ran to the coast.”

The cover of Smoke by Michael Brissenden, blue background, yellow and white writing
Smoke by Michael Brissenden is a crime thriller.(Supplied: Affirm Press)

Smoke opens with a body found in a shed. It looks like an accidental death, but further investigation suggests the fire was used as a cover for a crime.

Brissenden at first wanted to set the book in a fictional town in Australia.

“Everybody I was speaking to was still pretty traumatised … and I didn’t want it to be an identifiable place … and then it just started to rain here, and it rained for about 18 months.

“And at the same time, there were big fires in California and big fires in other parts of the world, like Greece.

“And I had, as a correspondent, covered fires in California, big wildfires in California.

“So, I thought, well, this is a great opportunity to remove it completely from Australia.”

Brissenden describes Booktopia’s current situation as a tragedy for the industry as a whole.

“Booktopia has had a very important place in the Australian literary scene,” Brissenden says.

“It’s Australian-owned, and it supports Australian titles and Australian authors.

“And many authors have been supported by Booktopia over the years and have used the whole Booktopia experience as a valuable marketing tool.”

He says Booktopia’s collapse has come at a time when people are increasingly using online retail spaces.

“I always think it’s worth in the first instance to try and support your local bookshop because I think local bookshops play a very important part in our community life.

“And we need to support them and keep them going.

“But they’re shops, right? They don’t carry the enormous range of books that are published every week, every month, every year.

“Whereas an online retailer like Booktopia has a massive warehouse space, and you’re more likely often to find some of those titles there than you are at your local bookshop.

“It’s a shame now that we don’t have an Australian online outlet. Although a lot of the big chain stores in Australia do quite a lot of online retailing as well.

“So, it’s better to do that, I think, than to give your money to a big international company like Amazon.”

It poses an accessibility issue

Author, disability advocate and actress Hannah Diviney was shocked to hear about Booktopia’s troubles.

Hannah Diviney with long brown hair and a bright smile sitting in a wheelchair wearing all-black clothing
Hannah Diviney says a lack of access to books could destabilise popular culture.(Supplied: Blue Melon Designs)

Diviney’s memoir I’ll Let Myself In is described as a defiant coming-of-age story about a young woman coming to terms with all that she is — the good, the bad and the ugly.

“It’s a hard market out there for books at the moment given the cost of living,” Diviney told ABC News.

“Books aren’t necessarily high on people’s priority list in terms of purchases.

“But I always thought that Booktopia must have done a roaring trade.

“That was just an assumption I made based on how popular I knew the website was. And also, there’s the variety of titles available.

“I was pretty shocked and then pretty confused because Booktopia is where I know a lot of people get their books from and without them, obviously, we will rely more on indie bookstores.

“But that kind of poses an accessibility issue.”

A yellow book cover with pink and blue writing with author's name Hannah Diviney and title of book I'll Let Myself In
Hannah Diviney’s book I’ll Let Myself In is a defiant coming-of-age story.(Supplied: Allen & Unwin)

Diviney, who uses a wheelchair, buys most of her books online.

“I find that easier than physically going to bookstores, whether it’s because of the time and the organisation that that takes to have a carer come with me, or to figure that out.

“Or depending on the bookshop itself, it might not be super accessible because often bookshops will be quite narrow, so I might be able to get in the door. But once I’m in the door, I kinda can’t move around too much without disturbing the books and creating chaos.”

From an author’s perspective, Diviney says it was easy to encourage readers to purchase from Booktopia, which she says had a great royalty and affiliate program.

She hopes someone will step in to resurrect the site.

“I’m wondering whether, with Booktopia seeming to shut down, whether someone will invent a new alternative that will spring up, or whether someone will purchase Booktopia … but, I guess, it just makes selling books in Australia a little bit harder when it was already looking a little grim out there.”

With books being the genesis of many TV shows and movies, Diviney says access to books is crucial.

“It would destabilise pop culture in Australia and around the world entirely … if people stop being able to access books.

“It stops adaptations of things, but it also stops people from engaging with reading and the escapism that books provide, and all of that is really important.”


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