It may surprise you, but your neighborhood bookstore is doing better than you think.
The prevailing thought today is that bookstores are failing. The king of online shopping, Amazon, came onto the scene in the ’90s and bookstores across the nation shuddered. Data continually confirms that large chains, like Barnes & Noble and the now defunct Borders, are struggling.
But data also shows that independent, locally-owned book stores are actually thriving. According to Publisher’s Weekly, print unit sales have increased about 10 percent since 2013. Independent booksellers grew during the same time, and have increased for almost 10 years in a row, according to the American Booksellers Association.
Heidi Rowley, owner of HideAway Books on Main Street in American Fork, said the promising data was why she opted to open a used bookstore a year ago.
“I always thought I’d do a bookstore, and I thought about it three years ago, but the data didn’t support it,” Rowley said, explaining that the idea stayed in the back of her mind, and she started exploring it again later. “I looked at the data again, and everything I saw was saying this is something that could work. If I hadn’t had that data two years ago that said things were looking better, I wouldn’t have done it. I jumped in at a good time.”
But why are independent booksellers surviving against Amazon?
Rowley thinks one reason is because neighborhood bookstores cater to the local community they reside in. For example, because of the predominance of families living in Utah County, half of her store is dedicated to children’s books. Being in American Fork and near Presbyterian, Protestant, Baptist and community churches, she also is differentiating herself by offering non-LDS Christian books.
Similarly, she’s heard of bookstores in college towns that are very successful catering to coeds.
“They are reflecting where they are. You could have two bookstores in the same community and they could be completely different. And people like that,” she said.
She also believes readers want a shared experience with other readers. Bookstores are where they can connect with booksellers and with other readers. It is also the place books can find readers.
“Bookstores are a great place to go to find the book you didn’t know you wanted until you see it,” she said.
Scott Glenn, general manager of Pioneer Book, agrees, saying he’s seen sales at Pioneer Book increase every year for the past five years. He explained that online booksellers cater to those who know the exact book they want, but online shopping cannot mimic the perusing experience found in an independent bookstore.
“People still crave the browsing experience. They want to come in the store not knowing what they’re going to find. That’s difficult to duplicate online,” he said. “If I want to browse and have a book find me, there are only a few places to do that. That’s what independent booksellers have figured out.”