Indie bookstores on the rise



Don’t get me wrong. This trend is a happy one AFAIC. I love “real” bookstores. But according to the graphic right up top, there are about 2000 of them in the USA, right? That averages 40 per state. And of course the more populous states will have more. (So I’m guessing that North Dakota, for example, has one or two independent book stores)?

I don’t even know what my original point was. The world sucks. Carry on.


It was absolutely not the goal of Amazon, at least not at its founding, to “drive physical bookstores out of business”. Whether or not that goal has been discussed by the company since then, I can’t say, but I can categorically state that the company was not founded with that intent.


Oh come on. Yes, you can catigorically state that. And it might even be a fact. But, dude… SOURCE(S)???

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There is a misunderstanding of capitalism in the article. Amazon exists to make money and to thus accumulate power and prestige for its owners and higher management. Driving independent physical bookstores out of existence does not serve this purpose – physical bookstores provide a substantially different experience from online book shopping and may even increase Amazon’s business. Some of them sell rare and used books through Amazon, so the relation is actually symbiotic. If bookstores are in decline, it is not because of Amazon.


If Amazon has any goal of driving physical stores out of business, surely they are thinking much bigger than bookstores – yes, they started there, but now they have eyes on much bigger markets – Sears, Best Buy, heck maybe even Wal-Mart.


I wonder how many people are leaving Amazon just because of their business practices. I’ve been kind of pissed because they’ve taken to spamming my inbox EVERY FRICKIN DAY! Sometimes twice a day. I don’t even bother to open and read the email anymore.

Lately I’ve been going to Amazon’s web-site just to screw with them. I look at a few things, at random, that I have no desire to actually purchase. Next day the spam I receive will have some kind of deal based on my browsing, and forever after that my inbox will be spammed.

If I had a salesman in a brick and mortar store, following me and taking notes about what I browsed, then every day called me to offer items for sale, I would likely never visit that store again. What makes Amazon think they are any different? Clearly, there is a small difference in that someone following me around taking notes might find themselves the recipient of an angry rebuke


Since locally the independent bookstores disappeared with the rise of the big chain bookstores, long before Amazon was around, it never occurred to me to blame Amazon for that loss. Ironically, despite having more space, the chain stores had a substantially worse selection than the indie stores, so when Amazon came along, it was the clearly superior option, so I can see Amazon taking away the chain store business. Although the trend of more independent bookstores is heartening, somehow I don’t think I’m going to see the good local indie bookstores that were lost ever return, however. Locally, small, highly specialized indie bookstores are the ones that survived and have been re-established. (But they’re not useful if I’m not looking for books within their specialization.) The more general interest bookstores haven’t come back. The dynamics have changed too much, and I don’t think they can be supported the way they were.


That’s on the way. Major shopping centres are making it a condition of entry that they can track you via mobile devices when you enter, and surveillance cameras in-store are being used to drive software that captures visitor behaviour by tracking them, noting what they look at, and generally attempting to bring the sort of customer behaviour metric granularity currently available online to bricks and mortar.

Four Corners (Australian current affairs program) did a show about it a few weeks ago. It’s fucking terrifying.


The decline of bookstores is mostly because of Amazon. Bookstores didn’t suddenly go full stupid and kill themselves. This isn’t a happy and symbiotic relationship. Amazon offers a near infinite selection and a lazy and easy way to get what you want. Bookstores offer instant gratification and a physical location. They sell the same thing, so the experience you pick is going to take money from the other.

I actually don’t have a problem with this. “Big box” bookstores dying isn’t much of a loss in the grand scheme of things. Forcing bookstores to be more community oriented and interesting makes them better places. They will never have the volume they once head due to Amazon eating their lunch, but smaller and more interesting bookstores will live on. This is why the indie bookstores are recovering from the slaughter and the “big box” bookstores like Borders are lifeless husks of their former selves. If I just want a book, Amazon is clearly the easier way to do it. If I want to go browse through interesting shelves or see an author event, an indie bookstore is clearly the way to go.

Honestly, I am happy with Amazon’s effect on the world. Amazon is the big box store killer. If you just want “stuff” and don’t give a shit about where you get it from, you used to go to a big box store. Now, you just order it from Amazon. The stores that remain are places that offer something a bit more interesting, creative, and specialized. Amazon can’t murder Walmart fast enough as far as I am concerned.


I was the second employee at Amazon. The first 3 of us discussed the goal of the company vis-a-vis physical bookstores many times during the first year. I was cynical about this stated intent, but it is true that even within the first few weeks of the site being open to the public, we were selling books to people without access to bookstores (or certainly without convenient access) - folks in the outback of Nebraska, US forces stationed overseas, people in Argentina.

That said, I think you can make a good argument that Amazon has, in fact, caused a decline in physical bookstores. As other commenters here have noted, it isn’t clear either way.

I trust that my source-ing is good enough for you?


It’s online shopping, in general, which has hurt brick and mortar stores of all kinds, not just bookstores. Independents, because of their smaller size, tend to fall first unless they have some special niche. If Amazon had never existed, one or more other online companies would be filling that gap right now. The effect would be the same.

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“Since locally the independent bookstores disappeared with the rise of the big chain bookstores, long before Amazon was around, it never occurred to me to blame Amazon for that loss.”

Me neither. I would have blamed the chains before I’d blame Amazon. It’s been possible to sell through Amazon for a long time, so some of the more savvy, smaller shops have been able to supplement their in-store sales that way.

“Ironically, despite having more space, the chain stores had a substantially worse selection than the indie stores, so when Amazon came along, it was the clearly superior option, so I can see Amazon taking away the chain store business.”

Coming from small-town America, my experience has been the opposite. Having the chains move in was great! No longer did I have to go into a seedy place that had more jack-off material and detective novels than anything else. Before the chains moved in, I was pretty much stuck with the library. The library introduced me to Heinlein, Asimov, and Clarke, but their sci-fi collection outside of that was terrible. Then came B. Dalton. I could go to a well-lit mall instead of, well, the place in a crappy part of town where people went to get Hustler, High Society, and their rolling papers. Before B&N moved in to the local college town, there was the campus bookstore, a place close to campus which was severely overpriced, and a place that sold used books for higher than retail. Nowaday, I can even get out-of-print books, within seconds, on my Kindle without paying the Quirky Used Book Store premium and without having to chat with the weird cat lady behind the counter.

Granted, I can’t get a coffee from Amazon, which is the nice thing about a bookshop.

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Even though I’m from Illinois, that’s basically how I got hooked on Amazon. As I said in another comment, our local selection flat-out sucked. I can get things through them that I can’t get through my local bookseller, without hassle.

I like going to bookstores to look at the selection, and it’s especially nice if the people working in the shop love to read and might know something about the category you’re reading. That’s something I miss about music stores–“Hey, you’re looking at that New Grass Revival CD, have you ever heard of the Flecktones? Totally different, but it’s Bela Fleck playing jazz on the banjo!” On the other hand, I don’t miss the judgemental clerks–“What, you’re buying a Metallica CD? Really?”

the rise of the big-box chain-stores (ironically, these are dead [Borders] or dying [B&N] and were almost certainly killed by Amazon)

Amazon did not single handedly kill Borders. Most commentators on the topic of the Borders bankruptcy agree that Borders killed itself through many years worth of management miscues, which involved the intentional decision to hand over online sales to Amazon in the early 2000s. Had Borders executive management not been idiots, they may still be solvent today.

Also, source needed for the claim that Barnes and Noble is dying.

It seems unlikely that Amazon would want all physical bookstores to up and die. Physical book stores act as magnificent showrooms for Amazon. It is my belief that if all physical bookstores vanished, Amazon’s book sales may actually decline over time as people lose interest in books. Competition is healthy for Amazon in this respect, as even Amazon is not powerful enough to be the sole passion-stoker of the world’s book buyers.

Bookstores didn’t suddenly go full stupid and kill themselves.

Borders did exactly that:

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There were always a lot of little local bookstores, but they had very limited selections. In NYC, if you wanted anything but a bestseller, you went down to the B&N near Union Square. They had everything, though the Union Square area was a lot seedier than it is now.

Then came the big box stores. They provided the same kind of selection but at a variety of urban and suburban locations. A lot of the smaller bookstores, independents and smaller chain stores, were forced out of business. If nothing else, parking was a problem. There was no point in fighting for a place to park, then finding that they didn’t have the book you were looking for when you could just go a big box store. The little guys could survive, but they needed to provide personal and community oriented service. In my town, it was the small chain (B Dalton) store that closed, while the independent seller survived.

Amazon hurt the small book sellers, but it was the big box stores that really got hit. Combine increasing suburban congestion with overnight delivery and the parking and traffic issues vanished. B&N was always into the delivery culture, so they understood what Amazon was doing and could fight it, but Borders seemed to be stuck in the 1980s.

I’m a big Amazon fan these days. I even bought my last lawn mower and barbeque grill from them. If more local merchants delivered, and offered better selection, I would have ordered locally. I don’t own a pickup truck. I still shop locally when I can, but the local bookstore is really limited. They get by providing great service, but that can only go so far.

And yet most BB book ‘stories’ lead directly to Amazon, rather than to Indie stores.

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Just as an FYI – the ABA’s numbers on indie bookstores are stratospherically off. And here’s how you prove it:

Go to SuperPages. Type in “bookstores.” Click search. Almost 20,000 entries come up. Even if we assume half of those entries are wrong or are for big box stores, that would still leave a lot more indie bookstores than they’re counting. And that assumes the indie bookstores are buying yellow pages ads.

Doing the same search via various sources and cross-referencing the results suggests that there are about 30,000 bookstores in the U.S. Most of them don’t bother joining the ABA.

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Interesting, as living in a moderately-sized city (about a million people), we had good indie bookstores before the chains moved in, so there was a noticeable loss of options. Last big-chain bookstore I went into, I checked out the sci-fi section: 90% Star Wars and Star Trek books, and authors like PK Dick were entirely absent, despite the fact that the store is absolutely huge. Most of the store’s selection seemed to consist of stacks and stacks of whatever the best-sellers currently are (I think a lot of the space is also devoted to things that aren’t books, e.g. cards, CDs, etc.). The closest real indie bookstore left, which is about an hour away, manages to fit more books and magazines in a tiny fraction of the space, somehow. The ability to browse makes it substantially superior to Amazon, but I rarely go there.