My neighborhood recently lost its only bookstore. Making this loss even more tragic is that it was an independent bookstore. It was an intimate space stacked from floor to ceiling with cheaply priced books, and the owner and staff were friendly. It had been around for years, but few outside the neighborhood knew about it. I chalked this up to poor promotion: it had virtually no online presence, didn't advertise in local media, and began hosting in-store events (sporadically) only toward the end of its operation.
WORD, an indie bookstore in Brooklyn, has thrived, thanks to an active online and social media presence, many well-publicized in-store events, and an expertly curated selection of books.
image source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bitchcakes/3753981022/lightbox
I feel this bookstore could have been saved (or at least prolonged its existence) if its owner had created a sophisticated-looking website and updated it frequently; actively connected with the public through social media such as Facebook and Twitter; routinely emailed customers about upcoming events; placed ads in local indie publications; and hosted in-store events on a regular basis. These events wouldn't have needed big names; they could have just spotlighted area talent. Or they could've been crafting get-togethers or movie nights (with book tie-ins) - anything to draw people to the store.
In the age of Amazon, bookstores - especially independent bookstores - have to try harder to just survive. This means establishing a lively Web presence, featuring expertly curated staff selections, and hosting more events, as Janaka Stucky suggests in his article "How to Survive in the Age of Amazon," published on the Poetry Foundation's website. It also means interacting in a more personable way with customers. At many small bookstores I've been to, the staff have acted in a gruff or condescending manner when approached. Sometimes, they've ignored me altogether. I want to support an independent establishment, but if I'm not treated as a valued customer there, I'll take my money elsewhere. It's as simple as that.
In a Big Think article, which I've reposted below, Austin Allen touches on many of these points. He further states that by catering to the needs of a particular group of people - in this case, poets and fans of poetry - bookstores can better save themselves. I don't think indie bookstores' focus has to be (or should be) this narrow to ensure their survival. (After all, countless bookstores that catered to specific populations, such as women, blacks, and gays, for instance, have gone under in recent decades.) I feel as long as independent bookstores actively make their presence known online, in print, and in the community - and they are at least polite to their customers - they'll have a fighting chance at staying alive in the age of Amazon.
Ps. I understand there are factors beyond bookstores' control, such as rent increases, that can spell doom for these establishments. But this blog and the accompanying article focus on what bookstores can do on their end to help preserve (or even grow) their business.
BigThink.com * January 12, 2012
"Humanity Over Technology": The Stucky Plan to Save Bookstores
By Austin Allen