Last month, more than 500 independent bookstore owners got together for a conference to discuss creative ways of generating more income. Julie Bosman covered the event in the New York Times.
What was clear was a consensus that just selling books wasn’t going to be enough. Even the giants, Borders and Barnes & Noble are struggling. There were optimistic voices:“We know now that in the world of physical book selling, bigness is no longer viewed as an asset,” said Mitchell Kaplan, owner of Books & Books, which has independent stores in South Florida, Westhampton Beach and the Cayman Islands. “It’s about selection and service and ambiance. Now we’re finding a situation where the marketplace is getting back to reality.”
But there were also calls for changing the rules. “We have to figure out how we stay in the game,” said Beth Puffer, the director of the Bank Street Bookstore in Manhattan. “You have to rethink your whole business model, because the old ways really aren’t going to cut it anymore.”
Matt Norcross, the owner of McLean & Eakin Booksellers in Petoskey, Mich., led a workshop on creating a store Web site and market both tree and e-books. The chosen host seems to be Google, perhaps seeking a bigger ally to fight Amazon.com. So far, they seem to be struggling to get their names out there on the web.
Naftali Rottenstreich, who is an owner of Red Fox Books in Glens Falls, N.Y., said it it would be a huge challenge to accustom customers to the idea of buying books online through the independent bookstores.
“The mindset right now is, that’s Amazon or that’s Barnes and Noble.com,” he said. “There’s a transformation that has to take place, and I think it will happen in time.”
Other ideas include adding wine bars, cafes, and selling other products such as toys, baked goods or gourmet products.
Last October, I heard a lot of fear at the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association conference. While I am sure there was fear aplenty at this conference, there seems to be a strong desire to adapt and survive.
Do we really want our Main Streets devoid of a bookstore? What does this say about our values and what message is it passing on to our children? Or is Main Street even going to be relevant to the next generation’s buying experiences?
Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com