Hi everyone! For my first post I thought I would set the scene for the question I will be addressing throughout my blog: How are independent bookstores surviving in a world that seems to become more and more digitalized each day? In doing a bit of preliminary research on this topic, I found two New York Times articles – one from 2011 and one from 2015 – that discuss this issue.
To briefly summarize: In the first article “Small Bookstores Struggle for Niche in Shifting Times” (January 23, 2011) author Julie Bosman speaks with the owners of several independent bookstores across the United States. The article addresses the different strategies these owners have used to keep their bookstores in business despite competition from sources such as Amazon and E-readers. Interestingly, however, the article also mentions the difficulties owners have had in learning how to promote their stores online in order to compete with other stores already selling products online. Bosman writes:“Owners are grappling with the new realities of online bookselling, Web design and the nuances of using social media for promotion.” Two owners suggested this struggle might be because the consumer mind-set does not recognize independent bookstores as online entities, making it difficult to attract consumer attention.
Conversely, in the second article, “The Plot Twist: E-book sales slip, and Print is Far From Dead,” (September 22, 2015) author Alexandra Alter provides an updated perspective on how consumer trends are starting to shift away from E-book sales and back towards print. The article states that, “the surprising resilience of print has provided a lift to many booksellers,” and suggests that E-reader sales may be declining because of the consumer’s preference for tablets and smartphones. Because of this decline, Alter states that, “Publishers, seeking to capitalize on the shift, are pouring money into their print infrastructures and distribution.” Additionally, Alter suggests that recent increases in the price of E-books have caused some readers to return to physical books. However, the author does state that, “The tug of war between pixels and print almost certainly isn’t over. Industry analysts and publishing executives say it is too soon to declare the death of the digital publishing revolution.”
What do these articles mean in terms of the future for independent bookstores? While it does seem that consumers currently prefer print, the second article makes clear that this might only be temporary, and could change when the next innovative piece of technology comes on to the market. Additionally, the manner in which these bookstores operate cannot be over-looked as an important factor when trying to determine their future. The first article mentions the use of cafes, toy sales, and instructional classes as a means of attracting a wider audience. Has the digital age made it impossible for bookstores to only sell books? I am curious to explore how many New York City independent bookstores sell other wares and also if these independent bookstores did ultimately make the successful transition to selling books online. If that is the case, are they selling E-books? Are there any patterns or commonalities amongst all of these stores? I hope you all enjoy delving into this topic with me as I explore New York City’s vast selection of independent bookstores. For those of you interested in the full articles, I have posted the links below!