US Independent Booksellers Looking Healthier Than Ever (via @aptronym)

This article starts out with a touching post about a community coming together to help an independent bookstore during Hurricane Sandy last year. It's representative of the community niche that independent bookstores occupy, as compared to the chain bookstores of yesteryear. (Yes, I'm saying yesteryear because does anyone, truly, still envision a Borders store as being representative of bookstores these days?)

Sales at independent bookstores rose about 8 percent in 2012 over 2011, according to a survey by the American Booksellers Association (ABA). This growth was all the more remarkable since the sales of the national chain Barnes & Noble were so tepid. "I think the worst days of the independents are behind them," says Jim Milliot, coeditorial director for Publishers Weekly magazine. "The demise of traditional print books has been a bit overblown. Everybody is a little anxious, but they are starting to think they've figured it out for the time being."

Note that these figures are for the American independent bookselling industry, but I would expect (and hope) that Australia has an even healthier independent retailer industry:

While beloved bookstores still close down every year, sales at independent bookstores overall are rising, established independents are expanding, and new ones are popping up from Brooklyn to Big Stone Gap, Va. Bookstore owners credit the modest increases to everything from the shuttering of Borders to the rise of the "buy local" movement to a get-'er-done outlook among the indies that would shame Larry the Cable Guy. If they have to sell cheesecake or run a summer camp to survive, add it to the to-do list.

I like the following excerpt, which is a kind of reflection of other industries affected by technological change (eg. music industry, film industry, etc, all of whom threaten the apocalypse if [new technology] is introduced):

E-books are just the latest in a string of threats that were supposed to kill off independents. In the 1930s, some people believed the paperback would mean the death of bookstores. In the 1970s, it was mall chains like B. Dalton and Waldenbooks.

"Those are all gone now," says Mutter.

That's not to say bookshops aren't shutting down, but it seems that this particular sector of the market is rapidly exploring different business models in an attempt to find the best balance in this new book selling world:

One, sci-fi bookstore Singularity & Co., relies on a business model with several different income streams – including all four partners working additional jobs. Co-owner Ash Kalb, for example, is a lawyer who works with tech start-ups. "I have the best law office in the world," he says. "My law office is a sci-fi bookshop."

Singularity & Co. started as a publisher. It rescues one out-of-print science-fiction title a month, purchases the rights from the copyright holder, and republishes the book digitally. Subscribers get access for a $29 annual fee, or can buy a title individually.


"These days, community-building is the most important key to an indie bookstore's success," says owner Christine Onaroti. "I believe that the days of just putting books on a shelf and hoping people will come in to buy them – [that] is not realistic...."

I would love to hear in the comments from any Australian booksellers about how well this matches their own experience.

Full (long) article here: