Is This the Way to Save the Independent Bookstore?

The latest BookSquare post, Save The Bookstore, Save The Community, proposes that the way for independent bookstores to survive is not to stock more product, but rather to build a sense of community:

So what of the independent bookstore? How will it survive? The answer is both simple and near-impossible: by rethinking what it means to be an independent bookstore. Community, companionship, coffee, cabernet… It isn’t just books that the stores need to sell, it’s a lifestyle. If social networking is the magical glue of the Internet, it is surely the magical glue of real life. Browsing and buying of books needs to be part of a larger effort to build community.

What do you think? Would such efforts keep you from Amazon and the local bookstore chain? Are such efforts enough to make you change your shopping habits?

10 thoughts on “Is This the Way to Save the Independent Bookstore?”

  1. It might be.

    It is definately a good thing if bookstores can create a situation where someone needs (or at least wants) to come to the store for some reason. Whether it’s drinking, music, small theatre, or whatever – they may be able to get a bit of extra income from here and get more sales.

    A local store here in AZ is strongly trying to create a true community – one way they have done it is to increase their second-hand inventory to movies, comics, and music to draw people in.

    A next move for them is to try and create an on-line community in parallel. I’ve been working with them by providing reviews and interacting on their message board. Things are still in a beta-testing mode, so it remains to be seen how well it will work.

  2. I like the idea, like it a lot in fact. There is a small shop across the street from my place of employment that sells interesting items for home decoration, cards, flowers, candles, etc. It is a nice store in its own right but doesn’t necessarily pull in the business that, say, Pottery Barn does (bad comparison, I know). Starting in October they decided to have late night Friday night events. Wine tastings, special desserts, snow machine during the Christmas season, etc…all with very seasonably appropriate food, drinks, live entertainment, etc. His sales went way up because he was doing just that…creating a sense of community. It is no secret that the cafes in Barnes and Noble, Borders, etc. help with promoting the sense that it is okay to come in, sit down, browse, relax…all that leads to increased sales. I’d love to see independent bookstores exercise a degree of creativity in order to survive

  3. I would think that real-life community is absolutely the way for an independent bookstore to be most successful. Gaming stores have relied on this tactic for a long time, hosting regular tournaments and “parties” to bring geeks together. Bookstores could do similar things for their demographic, though reading groups alone aren’t going to cut it. And there’s the additional problem that most independent bookstores have very low budgets. They don’t have the space for roomy cafes, and they can’t host spectacle events that will draw people away from other activities. I would love a bookstore set up for social interaction, though, with, perhaps, a small coffeeshop area in the back with one big round table, so people would pretty much have to interact. A community built like that could quickly become a clique – but hey, at least the bookstore has its clique, then.

  4. I think independent bookstores are key, especially genre ones.

    It’s interesting that you post this, because just a couple of hours ago Pandemonium (SF & F bookstore in the Boston area) just posted in their LJ that they are close to closing and are looking for help:

    http://community.livejournal.com/pandemonium_bks/78632.html

    The store has been serving the SF community in Boston for many years, and I really hope that it can survive.

  5. Personal recommendations and word-of-mouth are major influences on people deciding to purchase cultural products, so I’d say this is definitely a good idea.

  6. I’ve found some big box stores that employ some of these community approaches. Mostly it’ll be in a store that has a relatively stable employee base. Put the SF fan in charge of the SF stacks and recommendations flow. Some have book clubs, or multiple book clubs plus other kinds of get togethers. A friend of mine has worked in a big box in San Francisco for several years. He’s a music fan and has made numerous sales over the years based on “if you like A, you should try B”.

  7. I definitely think that the community aspect is key. It doesn’t cost anything

    ( other than a table and chairs) to host book discussion groups in a store.

    It builds community, and from it people can get recommendations to buy

    more books.

  8. I think the original article hit the nail on the proverbial head, independents need to rethink the idea of what it means to be a bookstore.

    For example, yes, real estate is an issue, but I see bookstores lovingly crammed to the gills going under for lack of sales. If a bookstore is willing to give up a quarter of their store to attract more customers, whether it be by installing an espresso bar or a reading lounge, there’s a real possibility they’ll make up that 25% of inventory loss in the customer gain.

    If a bookstore gave me a reason to come in and recommended a good find, I’d have no problem waiting until they shipped it to me instead of having Amazon ship it to me.

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