“Independent Bookstores are Dying”
“Indie Bookstores are Too Small to Make an Impact on my Sales”
“Indie Bookstores are Harder to Work With Than the Big Chains”
Some Stats on Independent Bookstores
As you can see from US Census Data, the number of independent bookstores is increasing every year. There were only 1651 indie bookstore locations in 2009 and today there are over 2300. We are on track to have over 2800 independent bookstores in the US by 2020.
Unlike the larger chains, independent bookstores do not have to nor do they WANT to compete with Amazon. They are opening all over the US as community centers and focusing on what is good for their neighborhoods. In the chains, the focus is on what is good for the shareholders and sales and inventory decisions are based on the corporate goals. This big difference has allowed small, independent bookstores to survive the economic downturn, Amazon, and a fickle shopping public. They are not only surviving, they are thriving. Back in 2009, there were only 1651 independent bookstores in the US. Now there are over 2300. (https://www.statista.com/statistics/282808/number-of-independent-bookstores-in-the-us/)
According to the American Booksellers Association (as reported in Publishing Perspectives) for independent bookstores that are members of ABA, 2015 sales were up 10% over 2014. Compare that to the overall growth of the book industry in 2015 that was down .6%. (http://www.bookbusinessmag.com/article/2015-u-s-book-publishing-revenue-flat-print-sales-rise-ebook-decline/) As the 2016 statistics come in, we are seeing similar numbers which we will report as they are released.
Independent Bookstores as Matchmakers
Independent bookstores are doing more than growing their bottom line. The impact and effects that a good Independent bookstore can make on an author’s sales are enormous. "Handselling”, the time-honored tradition of booksellers recommending and promoting a book they love, has helped launch a great many bestsellers over the years. Booksellers LOVE to match readers with books. They live to recommend authors that will delight their customers. According to a BookWeb article published by the American Booksellers Association, the owner of Chester County Books personally sold almost 4500 copies of Hostile Witness at his central PA store. One store!
One in a Million
Staff picks, community events, recommendations, displays, local bestseller lists. All of these are easier to get into in an independent bookstore than a chain. Now, keep in mind, the criteria for what makes a successful book is the SAME no matter where you are. You need a great editor, cover, designer, strong marketing, time, money and (above all) terrific writing. But once you have THOSE things, independent bookstores can help you rise above the HUGE group of books that ALSO have all of those things. (Yup, you are one in a million I am afraid, and not in a good way.
Chain, Chain, Chain
So, while we all want to be on the shelves of Barnes & Noble and Walmart, the chances of getting there right out of the gate are small. We have to earn our way onto those shelves. Independent bookstores are often willing to work with small presses and independent authors in a way that the larger chains cannot because of organizational and operational restrictions. As long as your book is returnable from a wholesaler, you can (and should) reach out to independent bookstores and ask them to consider stocking your book.
Do you have a fun “top 10” list you wrote? Offer it for their newsletter or website. Or an idea for a Skype workshop or reading circle? Suggest it to the buyer. Does the store have a best-seller list? Make sure you drive shoppers to the store instead of Amazon and see if you can become an “Ohio Bestseller.”
These practices do not take any more time that they would if you were approaching your local B&N and the results are often FAR more impressive and successful.
I love the chains, I do. I want you in BooksAMillion and every Target in the USA, but I don’t want you to forget how important independent bookstores are when you are creating your sales plan. Independents have always had a role to play in the book industry and from where we stand today—it looks like that role is growing and expanding in ways we never imagined. Don’t write them off. They need you and you need them. It's a match made in heaven!
(Title image courtesy of Little City Books, Hoboken, NJ)
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