Have indie bookstores found answers to counter Amazon?
Independent bookstores had been making sales and market share gains prior to the novel coronavirus pandemic upsetting the cart in 2020. The last year has proven challenging for smaller retailers, however, as they have had to contend with forced shop closures while pivoting online to take advantage of homebound consumers’ increased interest in reading and buying from local merchants.
In-store sales fell 30 percent last year, according to Bookshop.org, an online platform for indie book sellers supported by the American Booksellers Association (ABA). Online sales, however, jumped 700 percent, helping to offset some of the damage of a down year.
Independent shops are slowly returning to a state of semi-normalcy as states have relaxed safety protocols with millions of Americans having been vaccinated against COVID-19. Bookstore sales, which were up nearly 130 percent year-over-year in May, were still down 9.2 percent compared to the same period in 2019.
Friendly City Books finished up 2019 with plans to open its store in Columbus, MS, in the second quarter of 2020. Emily Liner, founder and owner of the shop, told RetailWire that “the pandemic completely upended” her plans and that she “had no idea when or if a brick-and-mortar business would be feasible again.”
Ms. Liner said she took her business online on the Bookshop.org platform. It enabled Friendly City to begin selling books online without having to hold inventory or fulfill orders itself. The shop was eventually able to open on Nov. 28 of last year and has held its own since then.
Friendly City continues selling online “even as life starts returning to normal.” The shoppers that the shop finds online are the same as “having extras customers walk in the door,” she said.
Andy Hunter, founder of Bookshop.org, sees Amazon.com’s growing market share as an existential threat to small bookstores, authors and the publishing industry. He asserts that Amazon will account for 80 percent of the U.S. book market by 2025 if it is able to maintain an eight percent annual growth rate over the next four years. Mr. Hunter said slowing Amazon down is made more difficult as it uses loss leader pricing on the most popular titles, which make up an outsized percentage of the market.
Bookshop.org has around 1,200 bookshops on its platform and partners with 26,000 affiliates.
- Bookshop.org Reaches $15 Million Earned for Independent Bookstores in Support of the Fight Against Amazon – Bookshop.org
- Is Bookshop.org a compelling Amazon alternative? – RetailWire
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you see Amazon or its bookstore rivals making greater market share gains over the next several years? What can independent bookstore owners do to compete with Amazon and larger retail chains?