Blogger: Mary Keeley
I was hooked by the title of Husna Haq’s recent article, “Indy Bookstores Are on the Rise: What’s Behind Their Comeback?” in The Christian Science Monitor. A reporter for the online magazine since 2009, she has been around to observe the waves of change in the publishing industry precipitated by the introduction of large book chains, e-books, and the monopoly-hopeful, Amazon. I had to learn more.
According to the general market’s American Booksellers Association (ABA), independent bookstores have increased 25 percent since 2009. Haq went on to quote Yvonne Zipp’s Monitor article “The Novel Resurgence of Independent Bookstores” two years earlier in which Yvonne said, “Independent bookstores are what urbanists call ‘third places,’ like farmers’ markets, that add to a community’s sense of identity. And like farmers’ markets, some customers come for the atmosphere….”
These writers attribute the comeback to the closure of Borders, increased reading among American adults, and the Buy Local movement.
Josh McDowell was the featured speaker at a gathering of church bookstore managers and staff at ICRS. Although his suggestions were addressed to church bookstores, they are relevant for any Christian bookstore. He stressed the importance of building relationships. See the full recap of what he had to say in this Christian Retailing article, “Josh McDowell Offers Charge to Church Bookstores,” by Ginny McCabe.
Hmm. That sounds similar to observations in the general market. Further investigation led to two contributing factors that provide hope for independent bookstores, which the big-box stores and Amazon aren’t geared to provide.
Relationship in community.
Christine Onaroti, owner of indie bookstore WORD in Brooklyn told Husna Haq: “These days, community-building is the most important key to an indie bookstore’s success.” It makes sense because reading books is relational, a sharing of thought, experience, or story. When we immerse ourselves in a book we love, we tell others about it. And the staff at indie bookstores usually are knowledgeable lovers of books and enhance the atmosphere of community as well.
The other factor that bolsters hope for independent bookstores is the leveling off of e-book sales and the increase in print books sales. Digital natives, that is millennials and post-millennials, prefer reading print books for pleasure and learning. Read more about this in Michael S. Rosenwald’s article “Why Digital Natives Prefer Reading in Print. Yes, You Read That Right.” in The Washington Post.
Preference for print books is on the rise.
Eric Weiner quotes Maryanne Wolf, professor at Tufts University and author of Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain. She studies the cognitive process of reading, and while she fully embraces both digital and print forms of reading, she had a warning about e-readers. Results of one study reported that young students, the digital natives, absorbed what they read better on paper than on screen, partly because they were less distracted. Read Eric’s complete article “The Technology of Books Has Changed but Bookstores Are Hanging In” on NPR.org. Ironically, sales of paper notebooks have risen too, even in the digital world of apps and electronic note keeping.
How can authors contribute to building relationships and community atmosphere in their local indie and Christian bookstore?
- Talk to the manager about starting a book group in the store. Participants would buy copies from the store. Several groups could take place on different days of the week. Suggesting books having a Christian worldview offers added benefit.
- Visit the bookstore frequently and make a deliberate effort to chat with other patrons. Contribute to a warm, friendly environment.
- Offer to do an event in which you share some of what you have learned in research for your next book. This has obvious benefit for your book promotion as well.
- Volunteer to help with events the storeowner is planning.
- Recruit author friends to do a book signing or event.
I found the resilience of independent bookstores to be exhilarating. How about you? And print books are a technology that’s been around for a very long time. We’ve conditioned ourselves to think the newest thing is better for every situation, but the findings in these articles, and so many more, offer reassurance that the local bookstore and print books are still valued.
What do these findings mean to you? How else might you support your local bookstore?
Reports show two factors that contribute to the comeback of independent bookstores. Click to Tweet.
Print books are not dead. Print book sales rise as e-book sales level. Click to Tweet.