Membership

Association: Booksellers Show Strength in Healthy Comeback

By / May 28, 2015 (iStock/Thinkstock)

Struggling no more? The American Booksellers Association reports a member surge that’s driven by indie booksellers—and highlighted by an annual event that finally went national this year.

Indie booksellers are cool again.

It’s evident in the American Booksellers Association’s (ABA) membership numbers, which have risen from 1,664 companies to 1,712 in the past year. And it’s also evident in a new annual event that takes inspiration from another event, Record Store Day.

ABA supported the nation’s first Independent Bookstore Day on May 2, which was largely a sweeping success, with a trending #BookstoreDay hashtag on Twitter. (The event evolved from the regional California Bookstore Day.)

“It’s definitely a lot more energetic. We had people lining up first thing in the morning,” McNally Jackson’s Matt Pieknik told The Daily Beast. “I’ve seen people with bags from a few different bookstores, and they’re displaying their purchases on Instagram.”

Retailers loved the concept, too: 98 percent of those surveyed after the event say they’d do it again. Not that it’s much of a surprise: Nearly 80 percent of participants reported a 70 to 100 percent sales jump from the year before.

“We wanted to change the tired narrative of bookstores hanging on by a thread and being these musty throwback shops,” Indie Bookstore Day Program Director Samantha Schoech told The Daily Beast. Schoech, a onetime independent bookseller herself, adds that the value of independent bookstores as local pillars is becoming more clear.

“In reality, more bookstores have opened than closed in the last couple of years in the U.S.” she said. “They have always been and will always be anchors in many communities.”

It’s a great reminder that no matter how successful electronic books get, bookstores have them beat on the community front.

A Different Story

Not that this momentum was always clear.

While ABA CEO Oren Teicher is optimistic about the industry’s renewed growth, it was only in 2008 that bookstores saw a dramatic slide. There were several reasons for this: the rise of the big-box store, the release of the Amazon Kindle, and the challenges of keeping a family business running.

“A decade ago, when people were ready to retire, they couldn’t find anyone to take over and ended up closing up the business,” Teicher told The Associated Press.

But around 2009, membership numbers—after hitting a nadir of 1,401 members—started to crawl upward again.

Now, ABA members collectively have 2,227 locations. Some say it is due to the growth of new stores and the expansion of older ones into new locations.

“Now, some of the most prominent stores in the country have changed owners. And the new owners bring a whole new sense of energy—they’re more tech savvy and sophisticated,” Teicher told the AP. “Their energy is contagious. They give everyone else a sense of possibility for their business.”

Patrick deHahn

Patrick deHahn is a contributor to Associations Now. More »

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