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How Independent Bookstores Are Thriving in the Digital Age

23 January 2016

From Publishing Perspectives:

Five years ago, timed to the American Booksellers Association’s (ABA) annual Winter Institute,The New York Times published a story entitled “Small Bookstores Struggle for Niche in Shifting Times.” The state of the industry as a whole was in jeopardy — Borders superstore chain was faltering, ebooks were on a meteoric rise, and Amazon was gaining market share in a dramatic way — and independent booksellers were on the front lines.  The article spoke to a recurring fear in the world of independent bookselling—that stores would be forced to close.

Today, on the eve of this year’s ABA Winter Institute in Denver, independent bookstores seem to be on safe ground. According to ABA newsletter Bookselling this Week, U.S. book sales for November were up 7.5% over last year, with the year-to-date sales up 1.7% over 2014 (December sales figures have not yet been reported). Furthermore, as of a report in February 2015, the number of independent bookstores increased 27% since 2009.

Oren Teicher, CEO of the American Booksellers Association, wasn’t surprised that the stories about independent bookstores declining or “dying” were overstated. “We are still here because stores play a real role in their community, and tens of times a day they are putting the right book into someone’s hand.”

. . . .

“Ultimately I don’t think indie bookstores have changed their core business very much. Handselling great books, offering excellent customer service, tailoring inventory and events programming to your customers’ interests — stores have been doing this for decades,” said Beach. “It is easier to be a small store now. It was easier for me to establish credit with accounts than it was for those who came before me. It’s easier now to keep your inventory tight and know that you can restock quickly as needed. It’s easier to have a website where customers can place orders and learn about events, without requiring a programmer on staff.”

While the rise of technology seemed like it would change the bookselling business dramatically and perhaps for the worse, it actually provided opportunities for independent bookstores that didn’t exist previously and evened the playing ground. “As the cost of technology comes down, small businesses can access the same technology as big corporations,” Teicher noted. Not only for promotion via websites, social media, and email blasts, but also the technology used to operate businesses, such as POS systems, inventory, accounting, and web design. “We are able to run a more efficient business at a cost we can afford.”

And, when it comes to enhancing their place in the community, social media only expands on that relationship. Vicki DeArmon, Marketing and Events Director for Copperfield’s Books in the San Francisco Bay Area, noted that bookstores and social media are a perfect promotion match. “Bookstores are a community-based edifice, so is social media,” said DeArmon. “We are constantly stoking the conversation with our customers in-store and online.”

. . . .

“Since much of social media success (though not all of it obviously) is about voice and authenticity, independent bookstores offer a lot that’s of interest: conversations about books, news about our community, perspectives from real people/booksellers, behind-the-scenes look at our store,” said Jessica Stockton Bagnulo, Co-Owner and Events Director for Greenlight Bookstore in Brooklyn.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives


4 Comments to “How Independent Bookstores Are Thriving in the Digital Age”

  1. Happy days are indeed here again.
    This was recorded early in 1929, just months from the stock market crash and the beginning of the Great Depression.

  2. Furthermore, as of a report in February 2015, the number of independent bookstores increased 27% since 2009

    Where are they all, then? I’m genuinely curious.

  3. while I can’t claim any special knowledge here it seems like a 27% increase is big… sort of. If a B&N closed in your city and 3 small book shops opened in response – and combined they carry and sell 1/4 of what B&N did – the increase is meaningless.

    Again I’m not saying that’s true. Just pointing out the uselessness of statistics in a vacuum.

    Not that the average PV reader needs me to point that out, but the name you see above is my disguise.. I’m really the infamous Captain Obvious!


    • Agree. The number of shops doesn’t tell us much. I’d be much more interested in the total feet of shelf space devoted to books. Shelf spacer can fall by 10% while the number of bookstores increases by 20%.

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