Back in April I was quoted in an article titled What is the Future of Bookstores? 13 Divergent Views from Publishing Insiders. Looking back on it now this quote makes me seem very anti-bookstores which isn’t true. Although I am a fan of Amazon and online purchasing my concern with buying books is not in finding the lowest price but in getting the most value. The problem I see for bookstores is finding ways to add value that surpasses the benefits of online retailers (i.e. lower prices, convenience, larger variety of titles).
When I was younger my favorite bookstore was Borders. Likely because of a credit card program my godmother was part of. For every purchase she made she acquired points which were redeemable for “Borders Bucks,” tender only valid at Borders stores. Because of the distance between my godmothers house and my own we only made the trip every once in a while. The time in between visits leading to a stockpile of border bucks that lead to book hauls for my child self of a hundred dollars or more at no extra cost to my parents or godmother. This was my goldmine. Borders offered a value in this rewards program that kept me loyal till the day they closed their doors. (I may have even cried when this happened.)
So now how do bookstores compete with online stores and give value that leads to longtime customer loyalty? Here are a few examples of ways I’ve seen bookstores win out over online stores.
- Blue Bunny Bookstore, located in historic Dedham, Massachusetts and owned by the Reynolds family. Blue Bunny Bookstore is home to author/illustrator Peter H. Reynolds. As a co-owner Peter has a workshop upstairs where he works, making it the best place to get signed copies of any of his books. If having a resident author wasn’t enough to add the extra value needed, Blue Bunny Bookstore is also a very active part of the community, offering extensive programs for children (the main audience of the bookstore) in addition to author signings. Just a few of their programs: creativity academy (6 week program for kids), cupcake decorating party and book signing, weekly story time, Camp Half-Blood (workshop based on The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan).
- Wellesley Books, located in Wellesley, MA is one of my favorite bookstores in New England to meet authors. The very talented event coordinator Allison has brought in countless numbers of my favorite authors and always makes sure to order hardcover books (something a collector like me appreciates beyond belief as this is one of my top reasons for going online instead of to the store). Wellesley Books also stocks a fun collection of assorted gifts that makes waiting for an event a whole lot more fun. I mean how can you go wrong with candle scents named after authors and a whole collection of tea supplies?
- Malaprop’s Bookstore and Cafe, located in Asheville, NC. I’ve talked a few times about Malaprop’s on the blog as it is one of my favorite bookstores. When I lived in Georgia I would drive three hours to visit this bookstore to see their author events. Malaprop’s knows how to throw a group signing and with the edition of a lovely cafe in the store this bookstore is worth the trip.
These are only a handful of stores that have proved their value and that I am personally happy to give up the benefits of online shopping to visit. Still, times are changing. With the close of big chains like Borders and the recent outcry against Amazon only time will tell what book buying options will last and which ones will fade.
One of the most interesting thoughts from this Amazon debate I heard at PubSmart from Hugh Howey. Hugh has a theory that Amazon may just be the best thing that has happened to indie bookstores. Hugh’s reasoning being that the bigger chains (like Borders) are not able to compete with the value Amazon offers and have been shutting down leaving communities in need of their indie bookstores for all of the things an online shop can’t offer.
So what do you think? Are bookstores a dying business with online options like Amazon now in play?