Independent Book Retailers Are Making a Comeback
by Michael Heath / selfpublishingUS.com
Amazon may now sell just about everything, but it originated as an online bookseller. They put a big dent in the sales of small independent bookstores. So did places like Barnes & Noble, the former Borders bookselling chain, and big-box department stores. These giants appeared to sound the death knell for the smaller shops. For years we heard the bad news of another landmark bookstore closing its doors, unable to compete with the mega sellers. It looked like it was all over for the neighborhood bookstore. Until it wasn’t.
Online versus Brick and Mortar
There are advantages to buying books online. You can search books quickly. There are reviews providing other reader’s opinions. Books can be bought without ever leaving the house. For these reasons and some others, way more than half of all book sales are transacted via the internet. As a bookstore lover, I must confess to purchasing many a hardcover or paperback by clicking the keyboard.
If online book selling is so convenient, what can an on-the-street shop offer a customer? The answer is: experience. Going to a bookstore is fun, even exciting. For a reader to walk aisles of seeming endless titles is somewhat of an event. People like to take their time and enjoy the adventure of finding what they are looking for or discover something new. There is nothing like holding a book in one’s hands and smelling the fresh, papery scent of new pages. Although the shops are not as whispery quiet as libraries, they do contain a certain calmness that invites customers to extend their stay. Those who are unable to locate their reading desire have “human” store clerks at the ready to help.
Re-imagining the Neighborhood Book Store
According to the American Booksellers Association, an industry that was traditionally dominated by white ownership is becoming more diversified. This change in demographics is resulting in changes in the way communities are being served. Some stores have specific product mixes set to target the Black, Latino, Asian and LGBTQIA markets. There are also stores specializing in genres like graphic novels, cookbooks, and mysteries. These unique business approaches allow them to stand away from the humdrum of online sites and the mundaneness of giant retailers.
Smaller bookstores are also adding activities to create both foot traffic and a sense of belonging. Poetry readings, author appearances, book signings, and even reward programs have been conducted to keep people coming back. Gift items are often included in the product selection to give customers more reasons to return. It is common for these stores to offer coffees and teas for sale to enhance the experience.
Is It Working?
The new ideas instituted by small booksellers appear to be welcomed by readers. According to the New York Times, 300 new independent bookstores have opened in the last two years and 200 are expected to open their doors in 2023. This is encouraging news for book lovers everywhere. Now we all need to step away from our computers and visit the local bookstores to ensure they stay around for years to come.