Small bookstores are booming after nearly being wiped out

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From CBS News:

A growing number of shoppers will be supporting their independent neighborhood bookstores on Small Business Saturday. After nearly being wiped out a decade ago, small bookstores are booming.

Dane Neller, the owner of Shakespeare & Co. in New York City, just opened his third indie bookstore, and he’s proving the naysayers wrong.

“Bookstores are back and they’re back in a big way,” he said. “I’m not giving to to hyperbole — it was record-breaking for us.”

The Manhattan sanctuary is part of a resurgence of independent bookstores nationwide. Customers who visit the story can stumble upon a new author or linger over a latte while a special machine can print a book in three minutes if it’s not in stock.

The rebound comes after years of competition from deep discount superstores and online behemoth Amazon, which together turned small shops into an endangered species.

According to the American Booksellers Association, the number of independent bookstores fell by approximately 40 percent between the mid-90s and 2009. They have recovered some of those closures, and this year, sales are up more than five percent over a year ago.

. . . .

“I’m not trying to compete with online retailers. I’m trying to compete on what I do best,” said Oren Teicher, the CEO of the American Booksellers Association. “When you come into a store like this and you don’t know what you want and you browse these shelves, you’re gonna find books that you didn’t know existed. If you are … engaged in your community, curating your content, having people work the store that are knowledgeable and passionate about books, there absolutely is a formula for success,” Teicher said.

Link to the rest at CBS News

22 thoughts on “Small bookstores are booming after nearly being wiped out”

  1. Some are, some aren’t. “Location, location, location.” If you’re not in a walkable millennial-filled neighborhood, it’s tough sledding.

    Book Bank in Largo Fl. closes 11/28

    “In the last two years, we were not making money. I was working for free, basically, the last two years, and every year it was like maybe next year will be better, and maybe the next year will be better,” she said. “All the expenses keep going up and the income keeps going down and at the point where they meet there’s no sense anymore.”

    The Owl’s Nest in New Brunswick closes this month

    “Honestly, it’s kind of frustrating because nobody cares really until you make that announcement saying ‘hey we’re done, it’s over, this is it,’” she said. “It’s like ‘why haven’t you been supporting us the last couple years if this is one of your favourite places?’”

    Croft says it has become more difficult to operate a shop downtown, adding that many people who were coming into the store were really only looking around and leaving without buying anything.

    Common Language in Ann Arbor closes this year. Last February they tweeted this…

    Been a rough week here at Common Language. An hour to closing time and we are again without sales.

    Another Chapter in a suburb of Tulsa closed this month

    Barros said her many offerings, however, couldn’t compete with sluggish sales and foot traffic combined with a high overhead, which lead to her make the difficult decision to close up shop.

    “Amazon was my biggest competitor because people have to have it online … we’re in a society of ‘get it now,’ and I understand that,” Barros said. “Audio is big (too). A lot of people are listening to books on audio because you can get them for next to nothing.”

    The list goes on and on.

    • Huh? Audio can be had for next to nothing?
      Is Tulsa that different from the rest of the universe? I thought audio was the most expensive format.
      I have to wonder what their book prices look like if audio is cheapest…

      • — retired 7th grade teacher opened a B&M bookstore 2 years ago and is closing it now. It looks to me like she isn’t – and wasn’t – terribly well informed about the market she entered.

    • It’s called cherry-picking, only admitting to what makes their point and ignoring everything else.

      I’m guessing it was a ‘prop trad-pub up’ piece as they want their readers to think bookstores are doing good and you really need trad-pub to get into most bookstores (as ABA tells bookstores not to sell Amazon books.)

      Sadly for them a few bookstores here and there do me no good at all if they aren’t nearby – and they do me even less good if they are nearby and don’t have what I’m looking for!

      So if they aren’t going to bother with an online presence so I can see what they have before wasting my time gas on them I suggest they save money and close yesterday.

      Adapt or die (and trying to pretend Amazon isn’t there is in the ‘die’ end of things …)


    • >Been a rough week here at Common Language. An hour to closing time and we are again without sales.

      Ouch, that sucks. I sometimes find books I love at indie bookstores, but more often than not, the print is too small for me to comfortably read. So many of the history books I like seem to be done in 10pt fonts, and 11pt if they are feeling super generous.

  2. Amazon is my bookstore. (There are two exceptions, both pertaining to WW1 aviation. One is Osprey Publishing and the other is a shop in England that specializes in out-of-print.)

    As long as I am here, I am shopping for a new Kindle. My Kindle Keyboard works fine, but I like the Voyager. Or maybe the Paperwhite. All the offers for Voyager I see are refurbs and used. Does Amazon still manufacture the Voyager?

    Anyone who has a Voyager, how is the reading on it? Does it transport well? Any glitches? What is your opinion of the adaptive lighting?

    Anyone who has a Paperwhite, how is the reading on it? Does it transport well? Any glitches?

    • The Paperwhite is fine. A workhorse.
      If the page turn buttons aren’t critical it should suffice: it has the same screen (or newer) and the same storage (or more) as the Voyage.

      If you read a lot of OSPREY pdfs on it you may be better off with the newer 32GB model but last year’s model is still on sale for US$79. The newer model is supposed to have slightly better frontlighting but I’ve found no fault with even earlier models than last year’s.

      If the buttons are essential, then look to tbe Oasis. Battery life may be somewhat lower but the ergonomics of the buttons are great. Pricey, though.

    • Just to second Felix, the Paperwhite is a fine machine. I’ve just bought the new 32gb version – fortunately on sale – as a Christmas present for my wife; this will replace the two 1st generation versions which her books are currently spread across. I got myself an Oasis recently – basically to get the extra memory – and it’s a really good ereader but if the latest Paperwhite had been out this would have been my preferred choice.

      As for your Ospreys, I second your choice of paper books. All my new fiction is ebook but paper still rules for image heavy non fiction. Unlike Felix I even have room for them after a very big clear out and building a couple of new bookcases.

    • The Fire HD 7 was on sale at the Amazon kiosk at the local mall Saturday for $29.99. Regular price $49.99. Couldn’t resist, bought one. Going through the learning curve and device tweaking now.

      On the Zon website, it’s back up to $49.99 now.

      Worked out well, my HP Stream 7 tab has quit working. The Fire 7 will replace it.

  3. I have been reading on the paperwhite for years and have never had any glitches. It transports very well, survives dropping (I have it in an ‘origami’ case.) is readable under all lighting. The latest edition has put sound back in, too, for bluetooth speakers or headphones.

  4. I always get the feeling that the writers of such pieces think of independent book stores as if they’re an endangered species. As though, should they get “wiped out,” there’s no chance to bring them back. Much like the dodo. Or if they get too thin on the ground, there won’t be enough genetic diversity left to keep the species going.

    It creates an artificial sense of panic.

    • Also to that point, it’s as if the poor innocent independent bookstore is just grazing about, and Amazon jumps from the underbrush, snaps their neck and drags them into a tree.

      The real issue, which you sometimes get in quotes but not in analysis, is customers. There aren’t enough customers spending enough money, and nobody wants to blame customers because in our economy, customers are above blame. So other actors are blamed – Amazon, landlords, video games.

      “If people don’t want to come, nothing will stop them” Sol Hurok.

      • You nailed it, Dave. People have to want independent bookstores more than the want the convenience and choice of the alternative. It’s just bizarre to blame a business for doing it better and giving the customer what they want.

  5. Small businesses are risky. Most of the successful small businessmen I know have a few failures before they get it right. And the ones who continue to succeed keep a careful eye on conditions and respond to them.

    I can’t see that bookstores are different. A successful bookstore has always been hard, may be harder today, but I doubt that success is impossible for a hard-working, motivated, and smart person with a little luck. (Very little is impossible for a hard-working, motivated, and smart person with a little luck.)

    Doesn’t hurt to have a level head either.

    • Opening any small business in a segment that is steadily losing market share pulls the probability of success way down.

      • I’ve talked with the owners of a local bookstore. One of their mainstays is the local independent writer community. They lure writers in with free classes, venues for writers groups, sponsor contests, book launch setups, a bulletin board for freelance editors and book designers. Seems like they have a new twist every month.

        This pulls in the indie writers in, who are big book buyers.

        Looks to me like they have turned indie publishing to their advantage.

        Not for everywhere, but they’ve been working this model for five or so years. They opened a new branch last year and both stores are busy whenever I wander in.

        I notice that the local B&N, which has the look of death about it, has started sponsoring writer’s groups.

        • Sure. The challenge any business faces is navigating the external environment. They do the best they can in either favorable and unfavorable environments. Good for them.

          It’s just easier in a favorable environment.

  6. Its the most obvious thing in the world that small, independent bookstores are filling in the vacuum created by the death of Borders and the decline of Barnes & Noble.

    Even though less physical books are being sold in brick and mortar stores than ever before, the demand for brick and mortar bookstores is still greater than what the market provides in many, many locations after Borders shuttered 399 stores in July of 2011.

    There is a limited time period (perhaps until 2030 or so) in which small, agile, independent bookstores can still pop up and flourish. If Barnes & Noble collapses (as seems inevitable), that window might be extended for another 10-15 years.

    I never hear any talk about this when these articles tout the renaissance of indie bookstores, but its seems completely obvious that shuttering almost 40% of the physical retail market at the same time creates opportunities that are still exploitable 7 years later for small businesses with significantly less overhead than a big box chain store.

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