Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Is The Future Looking Brighter for Independent Bookstores?

There’s been lots of doom and gloom about the future of bookselling recently, with various reports and rumors suggesting Barnes and Noble may well be following Borders into oblivion. Given the number of independent bookstores which have also closed their doors over the last couple of years, it was beginning to look as if brick-and-mortar stores would become a relic of the past.
So it was rather cheering to read in the March edition of The Christian Science Monitor that sales at independent bookstores are actually rising (a survey by the American Booksellers Association suggests sales increased by about 8% in 2012 over 2011), new stores are opening, and existing stores are expanding.

One has to assume that the disappearance of Borders has played some role in this. After all, Borders’ customers would have to find alternative places to shop and while some might have switched to online (and in some cases might have had no alternative if Borders was the only bookstore within reasonable reach), those who enjoyed the in-store browsing experience would presumably turn to the independents.

Likewise, with the continual closure of Barnes and Noble stores across the country, unless you want to shop for books along with food in the supermarket (limiting your choice to bestselling paperbacks), where else is there to turn? True, the stores being closed are those that are not profitable enough, but what is not profitable enough to a large corporation, might be just fine for an independent whose overheads are likely to be a lot less without an expensive management hierarchy to maintain and shareholders to please, especially if there is no competition from a big chain store to contend with.

Independent bookstores also have the flexibility of being able to tailor their stores to the needs of the local community, offering events and activites that will encourage customers’ loyalty while providing other sources of potential revenue for the store.

I was pleased to read that the buy-local movement, which has ‘grown steadily over the last five years’, is also believed to have an impact. This together with the news that sales of e-readers and e-books appears to be leveling off suggests that both print books and independent bookstores may still have a future after all.

This blog post originally appeared in Scarsdale Patch

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