Indy Bookstores Stage a Comeback, Of Sorts

Discussion
Jun 06, 2012

Watch out Amazon (okay, maybe not), the independent bookstores are coming!

According to the American Booksellers Association (ABA), things are beginning to look up for independent booksellers. The group’s membership numbers rose by 55 over the past year from 1,512 to 1,567. This marks the third straight year ABA’s membership numbers have gone up following years of large decreases as Amazon and Barnes & Noble put many independents out of business. At its peak, the ABA boasted some 3,000 members.

More importantly, independents are selling books. ABA CEO Oren Teicher cited Nielsen BookScan numbers which showed that association member stores had sold 13.4 percent more books year-over-year through May.

"We are more than holding our own," Mr. Teicher told The Associated Press.

Mr. Teicher and others point to a variety of reasons for the increase in book sales at independent stores including an improved economic environment, the demise of Borders and the emphasis on e-Books by the big two.

"It’s down compared to five years ago, but it went down when the whole economy fell," Tom Jackson, co-owner of the Regulator Bookshop in Durham, N.C., told the AP. "It’s since come back up and stayed up. Given what’s been happening with digital books, the competition from Amazon and so forth, that seems pretty good."

Dan Cullen, a spokesperson for the ABA, told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune that the buy local movement has also helped independents.

"People like to know their hometown has its own all-stars, and not just a more cookie-cutter presence," Mr. Cullen told the paper.

In Sarasota, FL, bookstores have recently opened with the owners believing they have identified niches that will allow them to compete in a brave new e-book world.

Barbara Barone has reopened Brant’s Books, a 5,000-square-foot used book store that her mother used to run. When the Herald-Tribune caught up with her recently, she was in the process of shelving roughly 150,000 out-of-print titles offered for sale in her shop. Besides her store, Ms. Barone also makes her books available for sale through eBay and other websites.

"In this economy, you have to be flexible," she told the Herald-Tribune. "There is some guy in Russia who needs your book desperately and will pay for it. That is why internet sales are so important."

Ms. Barone conceded that e-books may be the future of publishing, but that there is a future for traditional printed titles.

"I am very fortunate that the inventory I have is just not Kindle-based," she told the Herald-Tribune. "Who wants to buy a gorgeous Picasso art book on a Kindle?"

Discussion Question: What is the future of independent bookstores in America? What are the keys to success in a competitive environment dominated by Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble?

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9 Comments on "Indy Bookstores Stage a Comeback, Of Sorts"


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Doug Stephens
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Doug Stephens
9 years 11 months ago

The future of the independent bookstore is clear. Those that survive, will do so by selling rare and collector quality books. Much in the same way “record stores” have come to serve the collector market.

David Biernbaum
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9 years 11 months ago

Independent booksellers will do well if they offer certain very personal advantages over Amazaon and Barnes & Nobel.

Nikki Baird
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Nikki Baird
9 years 11 months ago

My local independent bookseller has adapted by partnering with Google Books for eBook sales, experimenting with print-on-demand in one of its handful of stores, and focusing more on events as well as on providing their own “curation” expertise. Their online site focuses on getting you any book you could possibly want to get — a nod to the strategy above, of rare or out-of-print books. They’ve also expanded their cafe and their free wifi. And they’re a more popular destination than ever. Is that translating into sales? I have no idea. But I have to give them props: they’re trying.

Liz Crawford
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9 years 11 months ago

I am happy that the independent seller is re-establishing himself locally. This business of “curation” is something that allows individuals to distinguish themselves — especially in the realm of media. Further, local hang-outs are far hipper than a big chain….

Bill Bittner
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Bill Bittner
9 years 11 months ago
I think there is a broader implication here for independent retailers in general, not just book retailers. A savvy independent who makes good use of technology has the opportunity to outmaneuver any “chain store” that might move into its market. The independent can use the same techniques to counter the “internet only” retailers by offering the services and atmosphere that simply can’t be delivered over a wire (or airwaves). Strategic planning and market focus used to come from a support staff in headquarters where “specialists” packaged their expertise for application at store level. Much of this expertise has now been designed into algorithms, made available over business networks, and supported by business processes implemented in software packages. You no longer buy “scales for the meat department,” instead you buy a “meat processing system” that includes hardware, software, and the reporting features that enable the operator to maximize return. By eliminating the overhead of corporate support departments, the independent retailer can accept lower gross margins. On a more general scale, the Internet also opens up access… Read more »
Dan Berthiaume
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Dan Berthiaume
9 years 11 months ago

The future of independent bookstores is probably the same as the future of independent record stores. Just as there will always be hardcore lovers of vinyl records and obscure bands that cannot be found online, there will always be lovers of obscure authors and paper books (at some point e-books will inevitably become the norm). Indy bookstores will not make much profit trying to sell James Patterson, but good-quality copies of “The Crazy Green of Second Avenue” by Erje Ayden just may be the ticket to profitability.

Lee Peterson
Guest
9 years 11 months ago

This same scenario has already played out for record stores. Now non-existent mall and in-line record (music) stores have given way to the cool, quirky and unusual efforts of indie ventures like Newbury Comics or Amoeba, whose customers range from urban hipsters to suburban curiosity seekers. And it works. There’s not a lot of them and they’re usually in urban areas that support foot traffic and business communities, but there is definitely a market for it.

Key for bookstores and the example set by music stores is to keep their retail efforts as far from what the old mall stores were like as possible — so, think “anti”: anti slick sales people, anti cookie cutter environments, anti everyday product, anti corporate sales and graphics. And for heaven’s sake, don’t TRY to be cool, just be yourself.

I look forward to more indie bookstores … indie record stores are fantastic.

Brian Numainville
Guest
9 years 11 months ago

Independent bookstores that provide unique offerings, top-notch service (i.e. recommendations and finding the collectible books not widely available) and a differentiated experience will see the most success into the future.

Joe Nassour
Guest
Joe Nassour
9 years 11 months ago

The book stores that will survive are the ones that offer the consumer more that the commodity “books.” It could be a combination of service, expertise and local services that Amazon cannot compete against. There has to be something for the consumer to get excited about.

The consumer always does a ROI in their minds. If this costs more by even a few pennies, why should I buy it here?

Answering that question is the key to success.

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