Bookstores: Long Live the Independents!

Bookstores: Long Live the Independents!

There were so many good things to talk about in my last blog about Time’s recent double issue on reasons to celebrate America that I couldn’t include them all.

Especially the article titled: “The death of the bookstore was greatly exaggerated.”

Ironically, the issue arrived the same week I saw a Publishers Weekly article headlined, “The Revival of Print Books Continues.”

Sales Increases

Bookstores: Long Live the Independents!PW chronicled a 6 percent increase in sales for a six-month period ending July 3. That follows a 3 percent increase in unit sales last year. The magazine noted that the hike came despite the lack of a blockbuster print title during the first half of 2016.

The strongest category: adult non-fiction, where sales rose 12 percent. A big driver in the segment is the continuing popularity of adult coloring books. That reminds me of the evergreen nature of board games despite the ubiquitous presence of smart phones and electronic hand-held gaming devices.

Meanwhile, Time wrote of the increase in member stores in the American Booksellers Association for the seventh consecutive year, from 1,712 to 1,755. Counting multiple locations brings the total to just over 2,300.

The story said the numbers are growing because business is growing: “Independent-bookstore sales were up around 5 percent in the first four months of this year. Indies accounted for about 10 percent of all books sold last year, which is up from 7 percent in 2014.”

Contributing Factors 

Americans appear to like independent bookstores, as evidenced by the six-year-long decline in the number of Barnes & Noble outlets, from 726 to 640. Time traced several reasons for the revival, such as new technology simplifying accounting and inventory management for smaller owners; social media enhancing special events promotions; and the 2011 demise of Borders easing competitive pressures.

One of most interesting tidbits from the story concerned a new downtown store in Greensboro, North Carolina, where an old friend and co-author lives. Another: the growth of the Tattered Cover Bookstore in Denver (where we used to live) to seven locations in the metro area. I remember when there was only one.

Drawbacks as Well

Time's recent article was titled “The death of the bookstore was greatly exaggerated.”Not all the news is good, particularly with the shrinking Christian bookstore market, which has been hurt by Amazon and mass merchandisers discovering that faith readers represent a lucrative market.

Indeed, earlier this year the only independent Christian retailer in our area closed its doors, something I discovered by accident on a visit to the lifestyle center where it had been located.

In addition, the largest distributor of Christian products is closing this summer. It is the victim of competition from Amazon and the bankruptcy of the largest Christian retail chain.

Challenges—and Opportunities

Such developments reflect the challenges facing all independents. As Time commented, it isn’t a huge growth business and no one is getting rich. And, last year online retailers share of the book market increased 5 percent, too.

Funny, though, that Amazon opened its first “brick-and-mortar” location last year in Seattle and has announced a second one in San Diego. As Time’s Lev Grossman commented, “(If Amazon’s) Jeff Bezos is copying you, you know you’re doing something right.”

So, while Kindles and other e-readers may be here to stay, so is the bookstore. In my estimation, there’s no better place to peruse good reading material.


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