Andy Laties (rebelbookseller) wrote,
Andy Laties

The Future Of Bookselling: Blog commentaries

I've contributed recent comments about the Future Of Indie Bookselling to discussions on two different blogs -- one American, one British.

On Jessica Stockton's blog, Written Nerd:

My comment:
The dedicated customer-base will always want to work with the expert bookseller. The greater the bookseller's expertise, the more devoted the specialty customer will be.

As to the general interest walk-in trade, the biggest question looming is whether Barnes & Noble will attempt to acquire Borders soon, and whether George W. Bush's antitrust enforcement will respond favorably to American Booksellers Association efforts to prevent such a merger.

Certainly today's announcement that in England, Waterstones will indeed take over Ottakar's provides no helpful precendent for keeping the industry at least a LITTLE bit decentralized on this side of the Atlantic. Especially with the rise of online bookselling, the Federal Trade Commission might rule that in the U.S. as in England, B&N and Borders as a combination will not be a monopoly (as they would surely have been judged as recently as the late 90s before Amazon and the other online sellers got as large as they are today.)

On Iain Dale's blog, on The Guardian:

My comment:
Not to worry: the independent bookstore will never disappear, any more than will the independent restaurant. Creative individuals will always find new ways to attract people out to their sparkling and daring storefronts.

During the Chicago Bookstore War of the mid-90s I had to close my previously successful independent bookstore: perhaps forty of us Chicago indies closed under the assault from the newstyle corporate bookstores. In all, about 3500 U.S. independent bookstores closed in the mid-90s.

But since 2002 the number of indie bookstores has stabilized at about 1700 nationwide -- about 175 close each year, and 175 open. The rate of new openings has grown, and the stores that close these days are often doing so because their owners have had a 30 year run and are retiring. The worm is turning.

In my own case, I did lose a store, which was expensive and made me miserable, but I promptly opened another one: more specialized, with more nonbook high-markup sidelines, with a program that discounted books for members of the museum with which I had affiliated myself (they generated huge traffic flow for me). My new store at Chicago Children's Museum sold tons of books and was profitable.

Now I've got yet another bookstore in another museum: The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. Again, a highly protected location and a membership discount program and an alliance with a nonprofit institution that benefits from the profits my work generates for them. Customers know that if they buy a book in my museum shop, the museum benefits from their decision to shop with me.

Yes, I lost a store. I had to learn how to create successful indie bookstores once again. What's wrong with the market changing? This only forces booksellers to become extremely creative. To invent new forms of "positioning".

The founders of Amazon, Waterstones, Ottakar's were very creative. That was then. Anyone else can be creative too. One day, today's big stores will be old news.

The owners of small stores that will go out of business in Britain will be faced with a personal choice. They can get out of the book business altogether. Or they can pick themselves up and think up a brand new, killer business concept that takes advantage of unique business alliances, practices, inventories, buying mechanisms.

I read Frank Mumby's book about British bookselling -- a classic. The history of British bookselling is full of battles and wars and fights between today's insiders and yesterday's insiders. You can't keep the next generation down.

Andy Laties

  • Post a new comment


    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

    When you submit the form an invisible reCAPTCHA check will be performed.
    You must follow the Privacy Policy and Google Terms of use.