While major chains flounder, independent bookstores regain foothold

It was not so many years ago that independent bookstores were declared a dying breed, unable to compete with the lower prices and larger selection of places like Borders and Barnes & Noble.

But in an unforeseen twist, Borders is now dead, Barnes & Noble is struggling and, according to the Washington Post, there are now more indie bookstores opening than closing.

The American Booksellers Association, which represents independent bookstores, says its membership — it hit a low of 1,600 in 2008 — has grown 6.4 percent in 2013, to 2,022. Sales were up 8 percent in 2012, and those gains have held this year. In the District, sales at Politics and Prose, where President Obama and his daughters went Christmas shopping last month, have grown each of the past few years.

Still, there are those who argue that the resurgence in small retail venues is doomed to be short lived:

Amazon shows no sign of giving indies any relief on what store owners consider predatory pricing, especially on key titles they need to push. Donna Tartt’s new novel, “The Goldfinch ,” is selling for $30 at Curious Iguana. Amazon is selling it for $15.41.

And then there’s Barnes & Noble. While the Borders demise was good for indie sales, a Barnes & Noble collapse would be catastrophic for the publishing industry, which depends heavily on the company’s enormous bookselling footprint to move huge inventories, including bestsellers that help finance the more literary offerings that indies typically stock.

Where do you buy your books? And are they physical, or digital?

  • KTN

    About a long time ago, I made a pact with myself that if I went into a bookstore, I would buy at least one book. Now all those years later, I have a library filled, and my pact has held true. I like the feel, the smell, and the knowledge I can pass something tangible along – whether they are ever read again is irrelevant.
    Pretty much still only buy from indies, but i don’t rule out the chains if I’m there.

  • Starquest

    Public library.

  • Brian

    Subtext is my favorite (Selby and Western, Saint Paul).

  • Roger Regor

    Sure you can open a bookstore, if you are a millionaire and want a hobby. That’s about the only way a person could run a business. Do it as a tax writeoff.

  • Roger Regor

    The public libraries often have their own bookstores attached and run by volunteers. You can get some terrific books and CDs for a dollar. Hardly a business model.