Best Aussie book retailers of 2020 – innovative in the pandemic

22 Apr 2021

Dominique Lamb, the CEO of the National Retail Association admires the ingenuity of Australian booksellers:

COVID forced retailers of all stripes to bolster their digital services and booksellers were no different. Reading is a favourite pastime for many Australians and book retailers showed tremendous innovation to ensure shoppers were still able to get a book in their hand during lockdowns. Despite the challenges of 2020, roughly $2.3 billion was spent at Australian book stores throughout the year. This is a phenomenal achievement and well done to book retailers across the country.

Read about the efforts of the six book retailers who comprise the shortlist for the ABIA Retailer of the Year Award. Winners announced on 28 April. Get your tickets.

Retail was hit for six in 2020 but these six book retailers showed resilience, creativity and passion for trade despite the odds. 

Thankfully, in their favour, picking up a book was a key escape for Australians in lockdown and living with restrictions.

Congratulations to the shortlist. 

Big W 

Big W Logo

160+ Stores Australia wide employing 22,000 people. 

In 2020 BIG W gave away more than 5.2 million children’s books in its stores, and another 80,000 books to communities in need. Their research into how COVID affected families’ relationships to books uncovered that over 70% of parents had not bought books because of financial constraints yet almost half were reading to their children more often. Big W prioritised books, committed to giving more families access to books, and grew sales by over 17%. The chain accelerated its digital capabilities when the pandemic began, ensuring access to books in innovative ways in partnership with publishers including a new Podcast, YouTube readings and sing-a-longs, and downloadable activity sheets. 


Australia’s main online bookstore, Booktopia employs approximately 200 full time staff. It’s headquarters are in Lidcombe, Sydney. 

Photo courtesy of Booktopia.

Late in 2019, Booktopia took on the online assets and many of the staff from the Co-Op Bookshop after it went into administration. Booktopia acted fast so that there was no disruption to access to textbooks, and in 2020 became the leading retailer of tertiary books in the country. COVID impacts meant restricted access to facilities, as any COVID cases in the organisation could result in Australians not being able to access books. Booktopia actively supported staff to work from home and pivoted swiftly from in-person to remote activities. To further support Australian reading habits, Booktopia partnered with one of the world’s leading digital media platforms, Rakuten Kobo, increasing the number of available ebooks and introducing streamable audiobooks to the catalogue, including a subscription model.


Seven shops across Melbourne city, employing roughly 120 staff. 

Readings Carlton store. Photo courtesy of Readings.

Readings faced unique challenges in 2020 as the only Victorian based national book retailer. With shops closed, or able to open with only limited services for almost six months, the independent retailer had to rethink its whole organisation to continue trading. Over half their business was done online and was centered on customers in Victoria but also spanned the country and the globe. They continued printing their monthly magazine, and awarding three writing prizes. They were also able to retain all of their staff during the turbulence. 175 launch and author events transitioned online despite being coordinated by just one person! They attracted a total audience of over 23,000 nationally and internationally. 

QBD Books

QBD was founded in the late 1800s. Its 76 stores are in major shopping centres in every state across the country. 

QBD Logan store. Photo courtesy of QBD Books.


QBD opened three more stores in 2020 despite COVID, adding 33 new jobs in Western Sydney and Melbourne. They sold more than 68,000 copies of their Books of the Month winning around 50% share of the market for those titles in that month. They started a Children’s Book of the Month program that sold more than 20,000 books. 

Harry Hartog Bookseller

With a focus on sustainable and Australian products, Harry Hartog has 11 stores across ACT, SA, QLD and NSW, employing 120 staff overall. 

Harry Hartog store, Miranda. Photo courtesy of Harry Hartog. 


In 2020 Harry Hartog successfully shifted from a head office buying model to a local shop specific buying model, empowering shop managers to best service their customers with books relevant for the demographic as well as supporting local authors. During 2020 it launched the Curated Book List service, in which customers could fill in a digital form and booksellers would supply a personalised book recommendation list. 2700 lists were completed over the peak of the first wave, delivering many of them via the establishment of a Home Delivery service. A later Loyalty Membership drive increased their subscriber base by 28%. A dedicated staff member was also hired as a mentor and trainer for the team. 


With 65 stores nationally and some in New Zealand and Hong Kong, Dymocks is an Australian-founded privately owned bookstore chain. 

Dymocks Eastlands. Photo courtesy of Dymocks. 


At the beginning of 2020, Dymocks Stores around Australia enabled $1 Round Up at POS to raise funds to support children whose lives were affected by the devastating bushfires across Australia. Dymocks Children’s Charities were able to deliver $330,000 worth of children’s books to evacuations centres, schools and volunteer groups. In April 2020, with all schools facing the unprecedented task of swiftly supporting home-based learning; many with limited resources the Dymocks Booklover community and Dymocks Children’s Charities ran two Covid-19 Appeals and were able to provide over $200,000 worth of books, games and puzzles to children impacted by the lockdowns across Australia. This year the chain also continued phasing out the use of plastic bags. 

The ABIA winners will be announced on 28 April. Get your tickets here.