Indie bookstores are back

 In Branding, Business, Explainer, fiction, Interviews, Marketing, writing

You may not believe this, but we are in the midst of an independent bookstore boom. This week, the new York bookstore Shakespeare & Co. announced that it will open three new stores, two of which will be in New York.

This follows the release of some preliminary research by Ryan Rafaelli of Harvard Business School. He found that, despite the rise of Amazon, the number of independent bookstores in the US has risen consistently since 2009.

I know, right?

I was surprised, mainly because when I attended an independent booksellers convention in Memphis last month, I didn’t get that vibe from them. So I called the American Booksellers Association (ABA) to check Ryan’s figures and the narrative, and it’s true. Indies are doing well right now. Between 2009 and 2015, the ABA reported a 35 percent growth in the number of independent booksellers, from 1,651 stores to 2,227.

So how is it that indie bookstores can be doing better, what with Amazon and all?

Well, it turns out that Amazon may have done indies a solid. Independent bookstores began struggling when big box booksellers like Borders and B&N appeared on the scene. This HBS story noted that between 1995 and 2000, the number of independent bookstores in the US fell 43 percent. But when Amazon showed up, and started crushing the bookstore business, it was not an equal opportunity destroyer. Indies suffered, certainly, but the big chains suffered a lot more. When the dust settled from the collapse of Borders and the winnowing out of B&N, the gaps in the market began to appear. Gaps that the indies started to fill.

I’ll be talking with Ryan on the Planet Money Indicator this week, to ask him about this dynamic, how it is that independent booksellers have managed to recover, and why most people think the bookstore business is dying when in fact the reverse is true.

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