Can Independent Bookstores Do More Than Survive?

Posted: January 28, 2012 in On Writing
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Remember browsing in your favorite bookstore?

Hitting the stacks looking for that next intriguing author. The smell of the books. The place where a community of readers could meet and talk books with knowledgeable sales staff. Maybe where you might find a book club that met once a month?

A child reading in Brookline Booksmith, an ind...

Remember When Books were Fun?

What happened to all of that?  Could it possibly make a comeback?

I remember when I could drive a mile and visit Tower Records and Books, a great place to browse and find a good mystery to read. Then came the Behemoth Border’s Bookstore Chain, followed by another giant, Barnes and Noble.

Tower Records and Books closed in Portland, Oregon and so did a lot of other great independent bookstores. Looking Glass Books in Sellwood, OR., folded last year after 38 years.  Great Northwest Books downtown burned down in August 2010.

When I get a chance, I head over to Murder By The Book on SE Hawthorne in Portland, a surefire place to score a good mystery. But it’s eight miles from where I live. Powell’s Books, also eight miles. You get the picture!

It’s hard to find a good bookstore these days, even in Portland. There are some, but they are spread out. In earlier years, the giant bookstores forced a lot of independents out of business.

But this past year something happened no one foresaw. Borders went out of business chiefly because of the advent of the e-book. Barnes and Noble, the last bookselling giant, is struggling and may be the next to enter bankruptcy. Its Nook tablet and selling off a division of its properties was enough to keep it barely afloat in 2011.

Amazon is doing to the big bookstores what the giants once did to Independent bookstores. By providing a one-click purchasing machine on their Kindle readers they are making it simpler to find any book you want and be reading it the next minute.

For the first time this year, Amazon sold more e-books than hard cover. It has had help from iPads, its own Kindle, and other tablets that have more than doubled in number during December with one in four adults now owning a tablet or e-reader.

Here’s My question: What happens if Borders and the larger booksellers do go out of business. Where will we be able to buy a print copy if not from the Internet?

I dare to hope this might create a better environment to support smaller bookstores. People are still buying hard-cover books and not everyone is plugged into the Internet. I always envisioned myself running a bookstore, preferably at the beach, but I never had any misconceptions about making a lot of money.

Mainly it would be a place to hang out and work on my book and talk with others who like to read. One thing the Internet does not do is get people to meet face to face. Skype has tried it, but it’s not the same as being with a real person.

If you don’t want to lose your last contact with the printed book, and the world it creates, make a bee-line to your favorite (still existing) bookstore and buy a book. Heck, by two or three or more. Let the proprietors know you appreciate the vital service they still offer and tell your friends to go out and buy a book locally once in a while.

Other Bookstores in Portland: Annie Bloom’s Books, Broadway Books, Powell’s

  1. John Worsley says:

    I think they can do it. But they will probably need to do something differently, like find ways to turn their physical presence into an advantage, or offer additional services. Some of them are becoming publishers:

  2. […] Can Independent Bookstores Do More Than Survive? ( […]

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