Irish booksellers intend to contact the Department of Education for further details on its plans to provide primary school children with free textbooks directly through their schools.
The move, expected to be announced in the budget on Tuesday and costing around €47million, will put an end to the practice of parents going to local bookshops ahead of the new school year from September next year.
According to the governing body Bookselling Ireland, there remains some uncertainty as to whether schools will be free to choose local suppliers or will be required to participate in formal bidding processes, which many believe will undermine community-based business.
“You don’t make a lot of money from it, you make a lot less than regular books, but it saves people a very quiet summer when everyone goes on vacation,” said Dawn Behan, vice president of the group. Chairman who runs Woodbine Books in Kilcullen, Co. Kildare.
“People love having a local bookstore and they love supporting it.”
Primary school parents spend an average of around €110 on books, many through some of the approximately 130 independent retailers in Ireland who sell them. Store owners often rely on clearance sales to lure shoppers into brick-and-mortar stores.
Ms Behan said the news came as a surprise to sellers on Monday as reports emerged in the media. The organization assesses the feelings of its members before seeking cooperation with department officials.
For Dermot Finegan, owner of Farrell & Nephew in Co Kildare, the government’s move to stock primary school shelves free for parents is in an industry long beset by stories of falling margins, e-books and online sellers with reduced prices, just the thing newest chapter.
“We will diversify and continue to provide a service,” he said confidently at the prospect of losing some graduates. “You will be [still] want the notebooks, they’ll want the pencils, and I don’t know if the government will provide that.”
After a successful trial in 100 Deis schools, more details on how the program will work are expected after the budget is announced on Tuesday.
What this means for shops, particularly smaller, rural sellers, is unclear, but even if some make use of a supply contract or continue to supply other essential goods, a loss of business seems inevitable.
Nevertheless, changes in the book trade are nothing unusual. As Mr. Finegan points out, “It nibbled because they did it [book] Renting in schools for years so you would notice a little drop off.
Farrell & Nephew has approximately 20 elementary schools in the region in which it operates but has long diversified its business. It opened in 1957 and began selling textbooks in the 1970s before abandoning and resuming about 15 years ago.
The business model is evolving – the store sells crafts, toys and gifts. Between 6,000 and 7,000 titles are on the shelves in an area of 2,500 square feet.
Mr Finegan believes the move could have a bigger impact on smaller, rural businesses, but he is not troubled by the expected Budget Day announcement.
“It’s not a problem,” he said. “People will continue to support local business and service and local independents. At least I think so.”