Jul 21, 2021
Independent bookstores had made sales and market share gains before the novel coronavirus pandemic upset the basket in 2020. Last year, however, proved difficult for small retailers as they had to contend with forced store closings while pivoting online to take advantage. increased interest of homebound consumers in reading and buying from local merchants.
In-store sales fell 30% last year, according to Librairie.org, an online platform for independent booksellers supported by the American Booksellers Association (ABA). Online sales, however, jumped 700%, helping to offset some of the damage from a declining year.
Independent stores are slowly returning to a state of semi-normalcy as states have relaxed safety protocols with millions of Americans having been vaccinated against COVID-19. Bookstore sales, which grew nearly 130% year-on-year in May, were still down 9.2% from the same period in 2019.
Friendly City Books ended 2019 with plans to open its store in Columbus, MS, in the second quarter of 2020. Emily Liner, founder and owner of the store, said Retail that “the pandemic completely upset” her plans and that she “had no idea when or if a physical enterprise would be feasible again.”
Ms Liner said she brought her business online on the Bookshop.org platform. This allowed Friendly City to start selling books online without having to hold inventory or fulfill orders itself. The store was finally able to open on November 28 of last year and has been going strong ever since.
Friendly City continues to sell online “even though life is back to normal”. The shoppers the store finds online are the same as “having additional customers walking through the door,” she said.
Andy Hunter, founder of Bookshop.org, sees Amazon.com’s growing market share as an existential threat to small bookstores, authors, and the publishing industry. He says Amazon will account for 80% of the US book market by 2025 if it manages to maintain an 8% annual growth rate over the next four years. Mr Hunter said Amazon’s downturn is made more difficult because it uses call-loss prices on the most popular titles, which represent a disproportionate percentage of the market.
Bookshop.org has around 1,200 bookstores on its platform and partners with 26,000 affiliates.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you think Amazon or its bookstore rivals will gain more market share over the next few years? What can independent bookstore owners do to compete with Amazon and the big retail chains?
“Any transition to online sales will finally answer the question of whether the main attraction of the bookstore is atmosphere or inventory.”