In a shocking twist of economic events, the resurrection of the independent bookshop from the dead has become far more prevalent. The online shopping industry, coupled with the evolution of electronics and societies’ growing dependency on them, created a war zone out of the field of book-selling business. After all, Amazon first began in 1995 as an online bookseller. It launched a brand-new business model, the sale of an enormous variety of books online, and eventually became so grossly popular that it grew into the all-encompassing online shopping community we know today (Chu, 2012). The small-town bookshop, that has been romanticized by bibliophiles since time immemorial, has reemerged from its almost-extinction by following clever marketing techniques and the wave of indie pop-culture that has been sweeping the nation. Social media has also served to benefit independent bookstores, as it allows consumers to interact with and get a feel of the shop and what it has to offer before venturing out. “Bookstagram” and “Booktok” (two terms to describe the literary subsections of social media, coined by the bibliophile communities of Instagram and TikTok, respectively), are just two examples of this growing craze (Raffaeli, 2020). These accounts dedicate themselves to showcasing the types of genres and titles, among other products, that their shops have to offer. Typically, the most popular type of media produced by said accounts to gain the most traction and attention on social media are posts that follow current trends in pop-culture.
One major factor that serves detrimental to the independent bookstore is pricing. Books and products sold at these small businesses are more than likely to priced higher than those sold from online sellers, as independent shops have more overhead and are lacking in endless amounts of funding to keep themselves afloat. In many instances, price increases are necessary in these establishments to ensure that not only does the business make the money they put out on the product, but to also gain profit from the sale. This, unfortunately, not only dissuades customers and makes them less likely to purchase from the establishment, but also leads them right into the ready and waiting arms of their online competitors, who offer the same literary products at lower prices. A common occurrence in these business comes when a customer enters, selects a title, and, upon seeing the price, takes a picture on their phone for the purpose of looking for it cheaper from an online seller.
Yet another factor serving to the detriment of independent bookshops is lack of variety. In the case of the online bookselling-giant Amazon, they are essentially are virtual Library of Alexandria. Their literary stock covers titles ranging from academic texts to independently published works. Additionally, their stock is increased by E-books and audio editions, which can easily be purchased downloaded onto any device. In this digital age, online bookshops have found how to market their infinite variety to every type of reader. Independent bookstores suffer the consequences of this, as it is nearly impossible for them to keep up with the near-infinite stock of online sellers and near-infinite amount of published works. Many independent bookstores specialize in one subject, making it easier to obtain titles and create a decent amount of stock, but harder to obtain clients, as consumers in such stores must be interested in the specific niche that the store focuses on.
The third and arguably most important and detrimental factor that online services can provide is that of convenience. It was once argued that online booksellers were hindered by the fact that it took several days to ship out literary products that independent bookstores could provide immediately to customers (Chu, 2012). Much to the independent bookstore’s dismay, services such as Amazon Prime and Same-Day Shipping serve to give online booksellers a leg-up on their smaller competition. Shipping services like these, combined with the fact that consumers can purchase products from their devices from the comfort of their homes, has been incredibly effective. During more recent circumstances, such as the pandemic, online booksellers were able to continue business as usual, and further thrive by gaining additional customers who they may have lost to independent booksellers.
In order to create an independent bookshop that is able to thrive in a world that is dominated by online markets, business owners must sell an experience to their clientele that their online competitors cannot. Raffaeli in his examination, ‘Reinventing Retail: The Novel Resurgence of Independent Bookstores’, refers to this as ‘The Three C’s’. These ‘Three C’s’ (community, curation, and convening), have contributed greatly to the reemergence of the independent bookstore (Raffaeli, 2020). In a 2015 conference, ABA CEO Oren Teicher opened his address with the statement, “It is a great time for Indie bookstores. Bigger is not always better. We’ve shown its possible to change and adapt. We’ve redefined who we are”. By establishing themselves as a place to gather and a small, community-based business, Indie bookshops have begun to reinvent themselves as pillars of small-town economies. In many past instances, the location of these shops (which includes the town and area of said town) have been gathered as ample evidence of why these types of small businesses fail. Through the growing trend of ‘championing localism’ and supporting and promoting the core values of consumers in their areas, independent bookstores have been able to gain back customers that would have been otherwise lost to their competitors (Raffaeli, 2020). In addition to selling unique experiences, many booksellers engage in the art of ‘hand selling’, which is an experience that it confined to in-person bookselling. ‘Hand-selling’ occurs when a bookseller, who in considered an expert in the stock and topics of their store, ask a customer a certain amount of questions in order to obtain a profile on their preferred genre or topic. Once they’ve gathered enough information, the bookseller selects a number of books that fit the specific profile and preferences of the customer. For booksellers to serve as ‘matchmakers’ between customers and books, they must be in possible of intimate knowledge of their stock as well as its contents (Rafaelli, 2020)