You might be surprised to hear that most are doing booming business, and more are popping up every day. With the disappearance of Borders, and scaling back of the ‘mega’ bookstores, consumers are finding it increasingly harder to find physical book sellers. Amazon might offer convenience if you know a book author or title that you’re specifically looking for, but it leaves a lot to be desired if you feel like ‘browsing and are not sure exactly what you are looking for, or want to compare several different books.
There is something to be said for perusing a bookshelf, picking up the book and feeling the pages, the quality of print, and leafing through it’s pages at your leisure. The old saying, ‘You can’t judge a book by it’s cover’ applies here, because even though Amazon has attempted to replicate the experience by offering a ‘look inside’ the cover online, it’s a small excerpt of the author’s choosing and doesn’t allow you to choose what section of the book you want to preview. Nothing compares to actually FEELING a book in your head, and experiencing an innate inner knowing, that THIS is the book you are meant to buy in this moment.
Independent booksellers have seen a resurgence of business in 2013 as consumers realize that digital books might be convenient, but lack something of substance, a feeling, a depth that is missing on the bright screen. Many people thought after Borders closed, that the small bookstores would be next, but it’s been quite the opposite as people hungry to browse the bookshelves once again seek our small booksellers for books that are special.
“The demise of traditional print books has been a bit overblown,” says Jim Milliot, coeditorial director for Publishers Weekly magazine.
Apparently not everyone has been wooed by the e-readers of the future, and studies even show that some people who went digital have now switched back. Bookstores are actually being valued more these days by publishers, who need them for their print sales.
“We had the best year in store history in 2012,” says a bookstore owner in Austin, Texas, Steve Bercu. “It was the third best year in a row. We’re up 12 percent so far for 2013.”
The growth is being credited to several factors, most significantly, the epic fall of retail chain Borders, that sent shoppers back into the independent bookstores and most likely ‘sobered’ a lot of consumers into appreciating what might be an endangered species.
Even CNN recently reported on the resurgence of the independent bookseller in 2013, and notes that small bookstores offer something Amazon cannot: personal service. Community bookstores offer a place to gather, to share and come across books that you otherwise might not have discovered. Many independent bookstores are thriving by focusing on a specific niche – like mystery novels, metaphysics or pulp fiction.
Consumers are also perhaps surging back to small bookstores, because of both nostalgia and regret – many readers were devastated to lose Borders and other bookstores over the last 5 years, and an indie movement has quietly been underway to bring back booksellers in towns that lost their only bookstore. Independent bookstores also offer the community a place to share information, connect and gather community, they are a vital information resource in small towns across America. When Borders left, they also abandoned or sold dirt cheap thousands of wooden bookshelves – which ironically enough, many found their way into small bookstores grateful for the beautiful large shelves… a little bit of Borders lives on in hundreds of small book sellers, old and new.
Many small bookstores, like Rhiannon’s, are getting creative with their merchandise. We offer not only books, but also beautiful jewelry, hand crafted items, clothing and artisan work. We, like many other booksellers, are partnering with distributors that donate with every book sold to school libraries and literacy programs, and green distributors that offer zero carbon footprint, and offering both new and bookstore returns and overstocks, which allows even a small bookseller to be competitive in pricing with giants like Amazon.
If you knew that you could visit a local bookseller, and find a book that is competitively priced while supporting local business, artisans, schools and literacy programs, wouldn’t you choose that over impersonal online ordering? Most of us would!
Community… may be the secret ingredient behind a quiet resurgence of independent bookstores, which were supposed to go the way of the stone tablet – done in first by the national chains, then Amazon, and then e-books.
A funny thing happened on the way to the funeral.
While beloved bookstores still close down every year, sales at independent bookstores overall are rising, established independents are expanding, and new ones are popping up from Brooklyn to Big Stone Gap, Va. Bookstore owners credit the modest increases to everything from the shuttering of Borders to the rise of the “buy local” movement to a get-’er-done outlook among the indies that would shame Larry the Cable Guy. If they have to sell cheesecake or run a summer camp to survive, add it to the to-do list.
“2012 was the year of the bookstore,” says Wendy Welch, co-owner of Tales of the Lonesome Pine in Virginia and author of the 2012 memoir “The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap.” In her memoir, she recounts how she and her husband, Jack Beck, created – sometimes despite themselves – a successful used-book store in a town that, by any business measure, is too small to support one.
“Jack and I will never be rich. But we found a place where people said there wasn’t a market and we said ‘yes there was,’ ” says Ms. Welch. “We feel like it’s important for bookslingers to hang together – we’ll hang together or we’ll hang separately…. And we’re holding the line.” – from Christian Science Monitor Magazine
So, when I tell people that we are opening a Metaphysical Bookstore in Kauai, and they respond with, “What? How can that be a success with Amazon? If Borders couldn’t make it, how can a small bookstore?” – I simply smile, because no matter how cool the latest gadget for digital books, I know that nothing can replace the feeling of holding a treasured edition in your hands, displaying it on your shelf and smelling those pages when you open it for the first time. I am so damn lucky to be able to be a part of bringing a bookstore back to Kauai, and excited to see the community discover new books again.