Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Revival of the Book Store

Amazon Books in Seattle, Washington. Photo: Getty Images
Last week, Amazon announced it was opening its second bookstore location in New York City across from the Empire State Building on West 34th Street. Since 2015, Amazon has been growing its brick and mortar presence in the world of books, beginning with its first Amazon Books in Seattle, followed by another in San Diego and then Portland.

The stores are a prime example of omni-channel retailing as customers walking through the aisles and browsing physical books are required to also use their mobile phones to check prices through the Amazon App. Just by simply scanning a book’s bar code with their phones, customers are automatically directed to the product page on the Amazon App where they can check product prices, read reviews of the book, and see other suggested similar books. Furthermore, if something happens to be listed for sale on the Amazon app, then it’s also on sale in store.
Scan the bar code and use the Amazon App to find out the price of a book in store. Photo: Business Insider
Once at the cashier, payment is made through an Amazon account, speeding up the payment process by using pre-entered payment details on the Amazon app and directly emailing receipts to connected accounts. Overall, it seems the process of buying a book at an Amazon bookstore is QUICK, EFFICIENT, but apparently impersonal.
A local independent bookstore in Fort Greene (Brooklyn, NY). Photo: Greenlight Bookstore
The intimacy of bookstores, however, appears to be a growing desire amongst customers that are still visiting brick-and-mortar stores. According to a growing number of independent bookstore owners, readers who are still purchasing books in stores want to “embrace books in all three dimensions and to select them in a tactile, less anonymous marketplace” – the antithesis of Amazon Books. To meet these wishes, many local neighborhood independent bookstores are doing the opposite of Amazon Books and offering customers personalized services, specially- curated selections of books, and community events that bring readers together to share ideas and collaborate. Many independent bookstores in fact become physical community spaces that offer readers, young and old, the opportunity to hang out and engage in social activities relating to literature.

Writopia Event for youth on the Upper West Side. Photo: Book Culture
At Greenlight bookstore here in Brooklyn, NY, poetry salons are organized every month to entice adults to the bookstore in the evenings after work to enjoy a glass of wine while enjoying the performances of novice and expert poets from the community and beyond. In the day, puppet shows and story times lure families in to enjoy a more kid-friendly activity while still being able to engage with others from the neighborhood.

The localism movement spreading through the world of bookstores has proven in recent years to be quite successful with the number of independent bookstores in the US growing by 27% since 2009 and sales increasing around 10% from 2015 to 2016, according to data from the American Booksellers Association (ABA). The ABA today boasts more than 2,200 stores as members while national chain retailers such as Borders and Barnes & Noble dwindle in numbers, closing down all throughout the country.

Here in New York especially, independent bookstores like Book Culture, WORD, Mc Nally Jackson and Greenlight are expanding and opening second and even third locations in neighborhoods lacking bookstores and popular community spaces. Some of these stores are doing so through innovative financing, giving local communities the added stake in the businesses. Greenlight Bookstore, for example, raised $242,600 for their second location in the neighborhood of Prospect-Lefferts Garden with the help of 95 people – some friends and some family but mostly folks from the neighborhood. The same financing model has also been replicated by other independent bookstores across the country like Avid Bookshop in Athens, GA and Print in Portland, ME. Community lending programs and crowdfunding campaigns have proven useful to these bookstores to not only raise funds but also spread awareness of their store, garner the support of locals, build momentum toward the opening of the store, and finally create a new place for the community.

Although Amazon Books may be opening brick-and-mortar stores all across the country, it is still miles away from offering the experience and intimacy of local independent bookstores. In fact, its latest choice of location in NYC by the Empire State Building and Time Warner Center indicates that the retailer recognizes it serves the tourist and visitor customer more than it does the local residents. Small independent bookstores continue to best meet the demand of locals with its specialized selection of products and localized knowledge of its customers. The small and intimate community events that are held in stores enable bookstore employees to engage with and really get to know local customers before being able to build such a smart, specialized service that cannot be met by other larger retailers. 

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