March 19, 2013

Independent bookstores doing better than ever in 2012


The Christian Science Monitor ran a cover story by Yvonne Zipp yesterday about the rise of independent bookstores in the U.S. Business is getting better! Zipp credits the fall of Borders and the rise of the “buy local” movement as the two major reasons business has improved for indies. Other advantages independent bookstores hold over their competitors include summer camps, improved websites, and physical expansions.

“We had the best year in store history in 2012,” says [Steve] Bercu, [owner of BookPeople and] a founder of the Austin Independent Business Alliance, which promotes locally owned businesses. “It was the third best year in a row. We’re up 12 percent so far for 2013.”

It’s also possible the market has found a balance after paring down: 1,000 bookstores went out of business between 2000 and 2007, but the American Bookseller Association‘s numbers have risen since 2009. Independents currently hold 10% of the market (B&N: 20%, Amazon: 29%). The independent booksellers holding that 10% are holding strong, running events and coming up with new ways to foster relationships with the people in their community. Writers who run their own bookstores are certainly doing their part, too.

The closing of so many Borders stores must have been sobering to consumers. There are valuable things about independent bookstores that book buyers may not recognize until they are seen as an endangered species. Does the perceived value of an independent bookstore go up when a chain disappears? Is there a way to mobilize the community in the wake of Borders’ demise that could give smaller, independent booksellers room to grow?

E-books are just the latest in a string of threats that were supposed to kill off independents. In the 1930s, some people believed the paperback would mean the death of bookstores. In the 1970s, it was mall chains like B. Dalton and Waldenbooks.

“Those are all gone now,” says [John] Mutter [the editor in chief of  Shelf Awareness].

Jersey City is a prime example of this bookstore evolution. WORD‘s profits in Brooklyn went up 41% last year, and now it’s opening a new location there. Tachair, a used bookstore run by a mother-daughter team, opened last year a few blocks from the new WORD. Two years ago, the only bookstore in Jersey City was the empty B. Dalton in the mall.

You can find independent bookstores near you on one of these impressive maps from IndieBound or Dwell. Wikipedia aims to have a full list of indies, too, though their number is nowhere near the 1,900 locations the ABA lists in the chart above. If you have the time, consider adding your local bookstore so someone else can find it.


Kirsten Reach was an editor at Melville House.