Death and Return of the Independent Bookstores


My regular Barnes & Noble in Royal Oak, MI, just closed its doors in April. And though I’m definitely a classic ‘book lover’, I miss it mostly because the bookstore was enriched with the ‘metadata’ of a Starbucks. I just loved skimming through books I might or might not buy while enjoying my Eggnog or Pumpkin Spice Latte.

And, yeah, I confess, more often than not did I later buy the books at Amazon and not in the store. I’m sorry, but a price difference of $ 5 – 10 per book do actually matter. Sure, I could sit at B&N (aka SB), flip thru the shelves and books. But then, again, I could do it at any SB and flip thru the virtual shelves and “Look inside” the books (most of the times). So, emotions aside, there was not really any benefit B&N would offer me which was worth that extra-$$. And paying this as kind of an entrance fee or for laying hands on a dead tree book? Who am I kidding? No way!

One could get all sentimental and bemoan the death of bookstores — however, wasn’t it B&N and the other big book retailers who killed off small independent bookstores in the first place? They used their market power to change the rules of the game (anyone remember “You’ve Got Mail”?).

(Not to mention that B&N actually started the discount war with Amazon back in 1997.)

And now, suddenly, they are begging for our sympathy because another “big guy” came to town bullying them, who dictates prices and conditions — and uses his power to make money?

Let’s not forget, neither Amazon nor B&N are charity driven organizations or have cultural values on the top of their agendas. First of all, they want to make money. (Which is fair enough!) And obviously, Amazon is doing a far better job than B&N (or others) in providing benefits for their customers.

But that’s not the end of the story so far. After the big retailers killed off independent bookstores and while Amazon is killing off them, small, independent bookstores are returning to the communities. They don’t focus on a wide variety of books (and a whole lot of non book materials), they don’t try to open 24/7. Almost anything, at any time, for any customer? The ‘one size fits all’ model has passed away with those book retailers which are lacking any local identity.

Independent book stores, on the other hand, focus on benefits for their customers, for their community, an online retailer can’t provide.

Literati Book Store Ann Arbor

Literati Book Store Ann Arbor

They try to bring back the ‘bookish’ feeling to bookstores. Almost everything is revolving around the book/writing/reading universe. Next to the obligatory Moleskine products, exquisite pens and papers, you can find old fashioned typewriters in those stores (for example). Comfy chairs, stylish shelves, antique tables and turn of the century lighting help you get into the ‘book mood’.

They organize story times, book readings & signings, public debates, workshops, and all kind of events.

They are active on Social Media, blogging, using Twitter, Facebook, Instagram.

Writing space @ Literati

Writer’s Corner @ Literati

My favorite one, Literati in Ann Arbor, even provides a kind of writer’s corner. Customers can use it to write poetry or aphorisms on their typewriter. The staff from Literati pin the best of those on the door — I could spend hours reading those — and tweet them.

They don’t have Starbucks. But that’s fine. By engaging their community, by providing a great atmosphere, by bringing back the eros to the bookstore, they actually offer a lot of benefit. It’s just fun being there! I think that that’s quite enough to compete with online retailers — who offer other kinds of benefits.

I’m only a bit sad that I’m not living closer to Ann Arbor. Nevertheless, I’ll be a regular there!

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