Don’t Close the Book on Indie Bookstores Just Yet

As the giant chains have stumbled in the past few years, independent bookstores are staying strong—and the American Booksellers Association has the stats to prove it.

Could the indie bookstore thrive in the era of the big box?

At a time when one of the industry’s largest chains is spoken of in the past tense, the American Booksellers Association’s members are proving surprisingly resilient. More details:

Sales on the increase: According to the ABA, independent booksellers have seen an increase in sales in recent years—a jump of 8 percent between 2011 and 2012—and gross sales this year are up 14 percent. “We’ve got people opening new bookstores and people buying into existing ones,” ABA spokesman Dan Cullen told NBC News. The improvement comes at a time when much of  the big-box competition is struggling. The Borders chain closed entirely in 2011, and Barnes & Noble’s bet on tablets failed, leading it to discontinue most of its Nook line in June and switch to a partnership model.

Kickstart my heart: One way indie booksellers are are surviving is that they’ve started using crowdfunding to encourage the public’s direct involvement in keeping bookstores alive. Some stores, such as San Francisco’s Adobe Books and Manhattan’s Books of Wonder, have relied on campaigns through Indiegogo and Kickstarter to raise the money to pay rent and sell books. Owners say it was a move of last resort. “I thought, given the financial strains we’re under at the moment, perhaps this is the way to prevent us from getting into a really desperate situation,” Books of Wonder’s Peter Glassman told The New York Times.

One concern: What’s ailing the big-box retailers—the rise of electronic and audio books—could still hurt the independents, too. While e-readers such as the Nook and Amazon’s Kindle aren’t huge profit centers for the companies, the books they sell to be read on those devices are. Sales of electronic books, which have bypassed many independent book retailers, represented a fifth of the $15 billion U.S. book market in 2012, according to BookStats figures. And while Barnes & Noble saw its profits slide significantly in its fiscal 2013 fourth quarter, the ABA says the company still has a 20 percent share of the total book market. By comparison, Amazon holds a 29 percent share and independent retailers 10 percent, according to the association.

So even though independent booksellers may be enjoying a happier chapter in their story, the ABA remains realistic about the future.

“Amazon obviously continues to grow,” the ABA CEO Oren Teicher told the Times. “It’s not like we’re without challenges.”

(Ingram Publishing/Thinkstock)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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