Chapter: A Romance Bookstore in Auckland

insideNew Zealand is a land of many attributes, but Romance Central it is not.  The tendency is to tuck away romance novels at the end of shelves like tails between legs.  So imagine my surprise when I came across Chapter, an Auckland bookstore devoted entirely to romance novels, and I was glad to get the opportunity to interview Frances Loo, owner and founder of Chapter.

Like many of us, Frances was weaned on Georgette Heyer and Mary Stewart, and branched off into Mills & Boons and Barbara Cartland before becoming a full-blown romance lover.  During a sojourn in America she gloried in the large selection of single title romances, having been limited predominantly to series romances in New Zealand.  So when Frances returned to New Zealand, she opened Chapter, a book café dedicated to single-title romances.

Now open for more than four years, her clientele consists mainly of an established base of professional women, with a smattering of catalogue customers.  They want the latest releases as soon as possible, and with the majority of the books imported promptly and directly from America they can get it.  They are also willing to pay the price: New mass market paperbacks in New Zealand range from $16 at low-cost superstores to $26 in small towns, and the prices at Chapter fall in the higher end of the spectrum.  (Note: The purchasing power of the New Zealand dollar is similar to that of the US dollar.  Reading is not cheap in NZ.)

Inflation does have an up side: Readers get more discerning.  The flip side though is that conservatism sets in – who wants to take risks, at $20 a pop?  So it’s hard to sell a new series or new author.  “What’s popular [in New Zealand] will be popular in America, but it doesn’t always work the other way around,” she says.  But the advantage to a small bookstore is “You act on the recommendations of customers,” and some now-popular authors, like Charlaine Harris and Nalini Singh, were discovered this way.  (Nalini Singh, of course, occupies pride of place on the shelf featuring New Zealand authors, not least of which because she lives in the neighbourhood.)  And by carrying extensive author backlists, her customers are able to glom to their heart’s content.  No electronic browsing, here; Frances’s customers want printed books.

The trends at Chapter differ little from the trends elsewhere.  “Romance is escapism,” Frances says, so her contemporaries and suspense sell moderately well, her erotica (which she terms Hot Romance) is picking up, and trade is briskest with the historical and fantasy/paranormal subgenres.  The latter, especially, “provides the extra oomph in terms of escapism.  Rather like milk vs. dark chocolate.”  And like recent statistics have shown in the US, business has picked up despite the recession.

Which just goes to show.  Whether you’re in Los Angeles or living with the kiwis, we all like a happy ending.

- Jean AAR

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16 Responses to Chapter: A Romance Bookstore in Auckland

  1. Cindy W says:

    I loved reading this! Jean, I’d like to know if she has ever given any consideration for a used book portion in her store?

  2. Kara says:

    What a great article…I wish I lived over there so I could spend hours in that store!!! LOL

  3. Renee says:

    Very interesting article. I always enjoy hearing about other parts of the world and seeing how similar we all are in terms of the things that make us happy. Like a happy ending goes a long way regardless of where you live. :)

  4. Theresa says:

    I’ve always wondered if a romance book store could be viable in my community. The few independent bookstores remaining where I live tend to be specialties: cook books, SF/Fantasy, mystery. It’s great to learn of the success of this new specialty store.

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  6. Filmbuff says:

    I wish there was a similar store in Sydney too! Australia too has a sizable romance reading market. However as Jean says these books are tucked away in a corner in super market stores like K-Mart and Target. Main bookstores (Borders, Dymocks etc) rarely market romance books. Of course there is the usual general public misconception of romance books and people reading romance books like every where else. Just yesterday, there was a guy behind me in the teller que looking at me with a smirk when the sales person was processing my M&B purchase!

  7. Jean Wan says:

    @CindyW – I asked Frances the same, and she said has no plans to expand – yet. The other half of her business currently is a thriving tea parlour (which explains the presence of MEN – gasp! – in the shop. When I was there she had a discount rack, $5 a book, but otherwise no other plans.

    @Theresa – I see those too, but I’ve never seen a romance bookstore until I learnt that Auckland had TWO, Chapter and Barbara’s Books (which is primarily a mail-order business).

    And I’m glad you all enjoyed the blog piece.

    - Jean AAR

  8. Irisg says:

    Wow!, that’s interesting. I live in Asia and am an avid reader. I get my monthly reading fix by visiting the local bookshops here. Anyway, we have one Japanese Franchise bookstore that stocks the latest romance titles within 2 weeks of the availability in the US. I guess I’m fortunate to be able to read the new books whenever it is available. Only one quibble though, those with racier covers / erotica will usually be held back by the Customs Office due to suspected “pornographic ” content. I would love it if we in Asia have a bookstore like the one in NZ.

  9. LinnieGayl says:

    This was so interesting to read. I would love to be able to go to a romance-only bookstore in the U.S.

  10. KristieJ says:

    This kind of story really makes us here in Canada/US appreciate what we have doesn’t it?? I often see the Australian prices listed on books and think that while I complain about our prices compared to the US price, at least it’s not as bad as they have to pay on the other side of the world.

  11. LinnieGayl says:

    KristieJ, you’re so right. The prices In Australia just boggle the mind. We are very lucky here.

  12. LinnieGayl says:

    Geesh, and I should add the prices in New Zealand, and most of the prices I’ve seen in Europe.

  13. Caryl says:

    Jean, hi! Great find. Please interview Nalini Singh for AAR! Didn’t know she was in your neighborhood.

  14. Inga says:

    I am one of Frances’s regulars, and stumbling across Chapter was a Godsend! I used to buy my books from Amazon, or would furtively dig through the romance sections of big stores (when no one was looking), which would never stock decent authors like Liz Carlyle or Mary Balogh.

    My world changed when I started working across the road from Chapter a few years ago and I couldn’t believe there was a store that stocked all the books I love! Now my main problem is trying to stop myself from automatically buying a book every time I go in, which is quite a struggle!

    So it is very exciting to see Chapter recognised on my favourite website!

    They make great coffee, too, and I have dragged my male colleague there many a time. It also helps that his wife is a huge Georgette Heyer fan!

  15. The prices in Australia and New Zealand are high to protect the local publishing industry and local authors, by which I mean those published by Australian and New Zealand houses. The reasoning is that if one were confronted by three books of similar type, say one British, one American and one Australian, and the local book was three times the price of the imports, then local authors and publishers wouldn’t stand a chance. Having relatively small populations in relation to the UK and North America, our publishing houses have much smaller print runs and hence smaller profit margins. Therefore book prices are kept artificially high.
    The bookshops are caught badly here; while they do try to support local authors and publishing, they claim to be losing customers to online shopping. This is a claim I can believe since I am guilty of doing a lot of it myself. There are no easy answers, and while I do continue to buy some books in local bookshops, I probably buy more online these days.

    As for Romance dedicated bookshops; there are some here in Australia. Melbourne has Rendezvous and Brisbane has Rosemary’s Books. I’m pretty sure there’s one in Canberra, too, but the name is escaping me right now. Dymocks (local chain) and Borders generally have a decent selection. Angus and Robertson (another local chain) I largely gave up on after finding Nora Roberts’ High Noon classed as a Chick Lit top pick along with what appeared to be an historical romance set in early 20th century China. I did point out to the staff that while shoes and shopping are mentioned in High Noon, I didn’t think that having the heroine’s ex chained to a grave and literally blown to bits in front of said heroine, was quite what a reader expected from Chick Lit!

    All that said, I’ve been to Chapter in Auckland and will second Inga’s recommendation of the coffee. Especially the option of having your cafe latte served in a very large soup bowl. NZ is high on my list of civilised nations;)


  16. Christian says:

    Thanks for this blog. I like what I read. I wish more blogs were like this. Thank you.

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