Back in January of 2017 the LA Times ran an article titled, “Bad news for the Strand? Amazon is opening a brick-and-mortar bookstore in Manhattan.” The article announced the opening of a new Amazon Books location less than two miles from The Strand Bookstore, a longstanding treasure trove for booklovers in New York City. But, walk into the Strand today, more than a year later, and, by all appearances, business is booming.
The notable activity going on in independent bookstores isn’t limited to the busy streets of Manhattan. Across America these stores are thriving. After more than a decade of decline with many indie stores as well as big-box sellers such as Border’s closing doors, we’re witnessing a significant turnaround. Independent bookstores appear to be growing by as much as 35% in the U.S.
So, what’s going on? How have these guys turned what was once a doomed industry into a growing movement? The answer consists of multiple factors that should not go unnoticed by eCommerce or brick & mortar businesses, Amazon certainly isn’t ignoring it.
- Brick & Mortar retail is not dead. Despite claims in the past that eCommerce would be the death of brick & mortar stores, the numbers tell us otherwise. According to DMNews.com, physical stores are still king with almost 90% of retail sales in the U.S. occurring in brick & mortar locations. A physical bookstore is tailored to the community, providing local appeal through events and frequently acting as a gathering place for customers.
- Mixed merchandise. Many bookstores are selling more than books these days. We’re not just talking about standard gift shop merchandise such as socks, magnets, and totes. New concepts such as that of Indianapolis chain Books & Brews are growing in popularity, creating spaces that encourage readers to stick around and enjoy good conversation with fellow book lovers.
- Social Media gurus inspire community in the store as well as online. Local stores have a clear advantage being immersed in the local community in ways that online retailers simply cannot do. Vicki DeArmon of Copperfield Books in San Francisco puts it like this, “Bookstores are a community-based edifice, so is social media… We are constantly stoking the conversation with our customers in-store and online.”
- Affordable Technology has made it possible for small businesses to compete in new ways. Advanced POS, inventory management and accounting systems, intuitive website setup and design platforms, paid media promotions engines and related technology are more affordable than ever and the difference this makes for small business operations is dramatic.
- Rising print sales. After many years of declining sales attributed to the explosion of e-readers on the market in 2007, sales of print books have now been on the rise for two years running. Amazon plays a major role here. Like it or not, according to Mike Shatzkin of the Idea Logical Company the retail giant is solely responsible for the 2-3% increase in print sales the past several years. Still, it shows that readers have not abandoned print for e-books after all. This is attributed to many factors from rising costs of ebooks, to readers wanting a break from screen time, to certain genres such as cookbooks being preferred in print.
This year, instead of going straight to the Amazon app on your phone, consider popping over to the shop around the corner to stock up on your summer reading. Chances are, you’ll find good books and good conversation to keep you coming back again and again.