As a former English major, professional writer, and fan of books, I was happy to read in The New York Times that “small booksellers not only survived the pandemic, but many are thriving.”
More than 300 new independent bookstores have sprouted across the United States in the past couple of years. Given how bookstore sales fell nearly 30 percent in 2020, things could have turned out differently.
“It’s kind of shocking when you think about what dire straits the stores were in in 2020,” said Allison Hill, the chief executive of the American Booksellers Association, a trade organization for independent bookstores.
Highly Curated for the Retail Win
Best-selling writer Ryan Holiday, author of Ego Is the Enemy, Discipline Is Destiny, and Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator recently wrote about the opening of his bookstore in Bastrop, Texas, 30 miles southeast of Austin.
When my wife and I decided to open a bookstore, I bought a course from a bookstore consultant. One of the first things they told me was we’d have to carry at least 10,000 titles. That’s what the average indie bookstore carries. It was, as far as I could tell, an unquestioned assumption in the business.
Naturally, the first thing we did was the opposite of that. At the Painted Porch, we carry roughly 600 titles. The vast majority of them are not new, or even particularly famous. But they are books we have loved over the years.
It was one of the best decisions we made–both personally and professionally. Not only did this make it cheaper and easier to run the bookstore, it makes us stand out.
I live in Bastrop and shop at Holiday’s store. He takes curated to a new “less is more” place with 600 titles. He also reserves prime real estate for his own books, and books by friends and guests on his podcast. Not all writers embrace the need to promote their work and the work of others. Holiday gets it and he amplifies it from his historic small town Main Street space.
Bookshop.org Takes On Amazon (You Can Too)
Bookshop.org is an interesting new player in the online book-selling bazaar.
Customers choose a favorite local bookstore to support—for instance, I chose Book People in Austin, TX—and browse titles curated by its staff. Orders are processed through wholesalers, so stores don’t need to manage extensive inventory to offer a wide selection and convenient shipping.
“A lot of what you hear about Silicon Valley culture is about disrupting an industry. What if we use the same tools some might use to disrupt an industry to actually reinforce it?” said Andy Hunter, founder and CEO of Bookshop.org.
Bookshop.org is a certified B Corp and gives 80% of its profits to independent bookstores, generating more than $21 million in revenue for the more than 1,500 booksellers on its platform.
The website now has more than 50,000 affiliates—including The Atlantic, Buzzfeed, The New York Times, The New York Review of Books, and New York Magazine—that link to it through book reviews or other coverage.