Independent bookstores start a new chapter: Growth
Their numbers are up, along with their sales, as e-book novelty wears off and human interaction becomes a top priority.
Contrary to what the sorry state of chain bookstores and the growth of Amazon (AMZN) would lead you to believe, The Economist says independent bookstores are not only growing but thriving. The American Booksellers Association notes that since 2009 more independent bookshops have opened than closed in America.
Sales at those stores grew by 8% in 2012, when many book chains saw a drop in revenue. Barnes & Noble's (BKS) same-store sales (sales at stores open for at least a year) decreased by 3.4% last year. Borders didn't even make it to 2012 after going bankrupt and creating blank spots in malls everywhere in 2011.
So what's the key to the little guys' recent success? Becoming blockbuster-proof.
Big chains and e-books ride the ebb and flow of top-selling titles such as the "Harry Potter," "Twilight" and "Hunger Games" series, with their fortunes mirroring the sale of those particular titles. As a result, three years ago, Amazon announced that its sales of digital books had eclipsed those of hardcovers. As the public's appetite for "Hunger Games" titles waned and the novelty of e-books wore off, the Association of American Publishers claims e-book sales increased by only 5% in this year's first quarter, compared with 28% during the same period a year earlier and 159% in first-quarter 2011.
Now Nielsen reports that e-book sales fell by 0.1% in April, compared with the same period last year. That's the first decline in the e-book market, and as Nicholas Carr suggested on his Rough Type blog, the number of people willing to try e-readers may be in decline while those using tablets as e-readers may be finding themselves distracted by their little device's myriad other functions.
Robert Rosenberger at Slate suggests that those distractions, coupled with readers' reluctance to jump to newer, more expensive mediums, may limit the e-book to a 25% share of the overall market. E-readers may be the "book" that passengers take with them on the plane or other long trips that require a bit more efficiency and less weight, but people prone to procrastination when Candy Crush is just an app away are turning back to paper to avoid distractions.
That's great news for indie bookstores, which survived both the chains and e-books by cultivating a stock of eclectic, curated titles and filling shops with knowledgeable booksellers and not just any person who fits the vest. By remembering that a human being is turning each page, the indies have retained the ability to concentrate on personal interests and aesthetic, hands-on experiences.
In other words, they know what their customers might also like, because they know what their customers like -- and not just what the algorithm suggests.
eReaders are not the devil as paper book readers would have you believe. The biggest perk for me? I can read them sans glasses and contacts. It takes just a second for me to adjust the font size. I'm betting that as the current population ages eReaders will become more popular as their sight diminishes.
Books are for suckers. Too much clutter, hard to carry.
That said, like newspapers and landlines, some people will never transition over to e-books. Those people were left with a void as Borders went out of business. Independents are filling this void.
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