Electric Literature has joined the “it’s just a flesh wound” crowd of bookstore boosters last week.
Ex-video store clerk Jeremy Hawkins wrote a post last week in which he recounts the demise of video stores and argue that bookstores would not be going down the same path because:
But then there are all those zeitgeist-frustrating facts, widely reported, like that membership in the American Booksellers Association, a trade organization of independent booksellers, has gone up in each of the last five years. Which means that more bookstores are opening than closing. Period.
And take these circumstantial examples: Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, NC (where I now work) and Greenlight Bookstore in Brooklyn. Both stores opened in 2009, when the U.S. economy in general, and the bookstore industry in particular, were swirling in the toilet. Both Flyleaf and Greenlight are now profitable. Both are growing. Both have established themselves as cultural fixtures in their respective communities.
Both stores are here to stay.
And there’s this: A recent study showed that current college students (we’re talking literal millennials here) actually prefer reading print books over eBooks, claiming it helps them better retain knowledge.
I freely admit to being a bookstore booster myself. Even though I would never shop in one (I’m too frugal), I’ve championed the resurgence of indies on several occasions.
I’d like to see bookstores thrive, but I’m not so sure that they won’t go the way of the video store.
Borders has already gone the way of Blockbuster, and B&N is going the way of Hollywood Video. B&N may be closing only 10 to 20 stores a year but they have yet to say when they’re opening new ones. A slow dissipation may be better than a sudden expiration, but only just. (And don’t forget, B&N has shifted so much of their floor space to non-book items that they hardly count as bookstores any more.)
What’s more, Hawkins may cite the ABA membership numbers as proof that bookstores are doing fine but I would remind you that the related stats for the UK are trending in the other direction. Indie bookstores are closing in the UK, not opening.
The UK Bookseller Association has reported declining membership for each of the past three years. Their count has dropped to 939 stores, down from 1,028 stores in February 2013.
As the Literary Ames book blog points out, there are a lot of differences between the book markets of the US and the UK, but there are also several similarities. Both countries have frugal consumers, increased competition from deep discounters (charity shops in the UK vs online sellers in the US), and a general move to buying stuff online (a category where the UK may actually lead the US).
Given the trend in the UK and the similarities between the countries, I think Hawkins is wrong at least in part. Indies aren’t thriving in the US solely on their own merits; they’re also benefiting from the decline of the major chains.
The death of Borders killed 405 bookstores in less than 6 months. That is huge vacuum for indies to fill, and the slow decline of Barnes & Noble is creating more opportunities for indies.
The number of indie bookstores is rising, yes, but it’s not growing fast enough to replace the revenue generated by the big box bookstores. Heck, the indies haven’t even managed to match the number of big box bookstores that have closed in the US in the past 5 years.
Folks, as much as I would like to agree with Hawkins and pretend that bookstores are doing fine, when taken as a whole they’re really not. Could bookstores go the way of video stores?
In all honesty, the current trends suggest they are already headed in that direction.
found via ThePassiveVoice