Our local independent bookshop had its closing down sale last weekend.
Disintermediation, changing consumer behaviors, the decreasing relevance of books in everybody’s array of media options mean that many big and small stores are not sustainable anymore. There had been a bookstore in this location for decades, recently it had changed hands after the owner of 17 years retired. It was a small book shop that could not compete anymore.
In the nineties came the big book seller chains, like Borders, with huge stores and kilometres of shelves, built in coffee shops and a massive marketing budget. The internet opened global sales channels, everybody could order from sellers anywhere in the world at low prices and free shipping. Then came tablets and e-readers with free, immediate distribution, offering books for a third of the price of paper books in a store.
Will there be a resurgence of local independent stores?
Readers will need suggestions and an inspiring shopping environment. Amazon’s “other people also bought …” is not quite the same as a book shop employee, who you know, who is enthousiastic and who recommends books to you.
But bookshops need to be able to offer a massive and growing number of titles. They need to find a tie in with Print on Demand, which enables publishers to keep their backlists in print. POD, the printing of one title after it is ordered, has experienced enormous growth rates. This tie in could be made by installing Espresso Book machines or by speeding up the flow of books from manufacturing at the printer to the point of the sale or the home of the customer (“I’ll have that title sent to you tomorrow”).
Bookshops need to be where their readers are, and a lot of the time they are browsing online (this shop was not even registered in Google places).
Bookshops need to market and maintain a close connection to their readers. Email newsletters, joint promotions and most of all social media can establish an emotional connection and motivate people to come in.
Bookshops can create connections between readers and authors and need to take advantage of this. Online this connection is made through authors’ blogs, in bookshops you can listen and talk to the author.
Bookshops can satisfy our need for a tactile experience, coffe table books and other high quality productions can only be experienced in a physical store, no website can demonstrate an outstanding print job or fabulous embellishments.