Wed, April 01

Bookstore Karma, or What Goes Around...

Independent bookstores around the country are on the rise. Admittedly, it's a slow rise but a rise never the less. According to Oren Teicher, CEO of the American Booksellers Association, "Contrary to the narrative that is often expressed, we are doing well ... ABA's membership has shown modest growth for three years in a row." In addition, sales at member stores were up 8% in 2012.

We are beginning to see the resurgence of independent bookstores as they fill a market void that is gradually getting bigger, as four significant trends are beginning to emerge.

First, the mega-chain bookstores are becoming extinct. Borders is already gone and Barnes & Noble continues to have serious financial problems and has just announced plans to close a third of its stores.

Second, the big box stores (Costco and Sam's Club) have significantly reduced the number of new titles they carry at any given time. Unless you read a specific handful of bestsellers or paperback romance novels, its becoming increasingly unlikely that you'll find anything worth reading in these stores, discount or not.

Third, although it is still a major force in book retailing, Amazon is less interested in books than in other more profitable consumer lines, especially electronics. There is less deep discounting of books on Amazon than there used to be, and it has been forced to collect sales taxes in an increasing number of states, including Arizona.

The newest version of Kindle, Amazon's proprietary e-reader, is competing more with Apple's iPad than with any physical book for the consumers' dollars, with high-definition video to view all types of entertainment media besides books.

Which leads me to four, e-book sales are leveling off. The pendulum may not be swinging all the way back to physical books but an equilibrium is setting in. There appears to be a sustainable consumer market for both.

E-book market share is now holding steady at about 15% of all new books sold in the United States. This is due to several factors, including that the honeymoon-infatuation period is over and consumers are beginning to acknowledge the some of the limitations of e-readers.

Although significant, a 15% market share means that physical books have an 85% market share, which is even more significant. I've always maintained that e-books are here to stay and that there is room for both formats.

So as we progress through the first decades of the 21st Century, with the mega-chains and the big boxes out of the book business, for all practical purposes, you will have two choices, with no significant difference in cost - Amazon and your local bookstore.

The stereotypical local bookstore of years ago, having survived the predatory practices of its much larger competitors, is still here for you.

Joe Neri is the co-owner of The Well Red Coyote bookstore in Sedona. He can be contacted at (928) 282-2284 or

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