Home » Amazon, Bookstores, Indie Bookstores » Indie Bookstores Aren’t Dead — They’re Making A Comeback

Indie Bookstores Aren’t Dead — They’re Making A Comeback

4 October 2014

From Kevin O’Kelly at The Huffington Post

“The Death of the Independent Bookstore?”; “Is the Bookstore Dead?”; “Why Bookstores are Doomed”: those headlines are from Slate (2006), Jewish Journal (2011), and Business Insider (2013). For years, journalists have made these types of predictions about the death of independent bookstores: if the chains didn’t crush them, Amazon would. If Amazon didn’t, they would die anyway because people just weren’t reading.

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But around the time of that lament, a sea change occurred. Bookshops continued to close, but others began to open. In 2009, the number of independent bookstores in the nation stabilized at around 1,400, and then slowly began to grow. As of last May, the number of indie bookshops in the U.S. was 1,664.
Why the turnaround? Part of the reason was the long, slow implosion of one of indie bookselling’s biggest competitors: Borders went heavily into CDs and DVDs only to find itself competing with iTunes, and then outsourced its online bookselling to Amazon.

The company’s last profitable year was 2006. It filed for bankruptcy in 2011.
Other factors, such as the buy-local movement and an increase in reading among adult Americans, have helped as well. But the biggest reason independent bookstores are still around is that the store closures of the previous decade alerted people to what they were in danger of losing. Author Ann Patchett wrote that when the last two bookstores in her hometown of Nashville closed, “The Nashville Public Library organized community forums for concerned citizens to come together and discuss how we might get a bookstore again.” When I first read that passage two years ago, I was struck by the public reaction. A community wouldn’t respond like this to the loss of just any business.

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As a veteran bookseller, Evans was eminently established and experienced when the funeral bells began to toll for the independents. But when David Sandberg and Dina Mardell bought Porter Square Books in Cambridge, Mass., in 2013, the conventional wisdom was still against the indies.
If you ask Sandberg why he and his partner decided to buy Porter Square Books when it went on the market, he’ll admit it was on impulse.

“We bought it without a particular rationale. We thought [running a bookstore] would be a great thing to do, even though we had never thought about it before. We just did it.”

But he doesn’t regret the decision. “We love owning a bookstore,” he says.

It’s obvious to Sandberg that the store provides people with more than just a way to buy a book: “The previous owners and their staff created a community. And the customers appreciate the expertise of the people who work here. They like knowing someone is going to help them, and that’s hard to do in an online environment.”

As for the business end? “The store’s never had a year when sales have gone down.”

Read the rest of this warm and fuzzy tale here.

From Guest blogger Randall.

Amazon, Bookstores, Indie Bookstores

4 Comments to “Indie Bookstores Aren’t Dead — They’re Making A Comeback”

  1. I worked in and managed bookstores for the 13 years before I took my first full-time writing job. I absolutely loved every one of those stores, and would have hung out in them if they hadn’t been paying me. In the years since I’ve spent countless hours browsing and buying books.

    Then Amazon destroyed reading culture (sorry, couldn’t resist) and I now read three or four times as many books now as I did B.K., but visiting bookstores has almost entirely lost its appeal.

    I’m glad others are still getting a lot out of the bookstore experience I used to love; I like to see indies in any field thriving. And that said, I just bought a book from my dining-room table that was delivered several seconds later.

  2. I’m thrilled independent bookstores are re-creating the reader-experience Big Box Bookstores (in conjunction with Big Pub) tried and failed to provide. My little town has a single indie bookstore with stock that doesn’t at all really match my tastes, but the store provides a gathering place, readers groups, and such that meet the needs of the many others. (Truly, they’d go out of business in this town if they catered to me. 🙂

    Thinking the fall of Big Box retailers signals the demise of literature and a decrease in a writer’s opportunity is like seeing the bankruptcy of Applebee’s as an event of culinary significance.

  3. This is great to hear. I just wish there was an indie bookstore close to me. I know there’s one that’s about an hour away, but I can’t really afford to drive there often and I’ve never been to it, but maybe I should try to visit it next time I’m in the area.

    Also, I just checked the websites for the stores mentioned in the article. My first (and so far, only) paperback book is available for order from McLean and Eakin and Porter Square Books’ websites, but sadly is not on Lemuria Books for some reason. Oh, well. Two out of three ain’t bad.

  4. The “indie bookstore comeback” story has been done to death. Honestly, it’s misleading, a non-story repeated again and again because it suits the agenda of those “reporting” it.

    Borders collapsed (as much because of over-expansion and poor management as market changes) and Barnes and Noble is shrinking (boneheaded management playing a role there too). It’s natural that smaller stores fill in some holes left when the giants die. Just because a mouse can survive a while in a dying ecosystem after the elephants have succumbed, doesn’t mean they are prospering.

    I’d wager most local bookstores are fairly marginal businesses on the financial side and probably not all that able to withstand any continued deterioration in the market.

    Local stores have a soft spot in many peoples’ hearts, but I’d bet there are more people who just “want” these stores around than there are people who buy books there regularly.

    I’m not anti-small bookstore. But can we ever have actual reporting of reality and not constant spin and reaffirmation to established points of view?

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