An article entitled “Is Retail at a Historic Tipping Point?” in The New York Times on Sunday, April 16th discussed how many retail outlets are suffering as a result of consumer moves toward online purchasing. According to the Times, 89,000 workers in General merchandise stores have been laid off since October, and store closures “… are on pace this year to eclipse the number of stores that closed in the depths of the Great Recession of 2008.”
According to experts, this reflects a huge social change indicating that online purchasing is not a fad but a “reordering” of social behavior, and that the switch from bricks-and-mortar to online shopping has sped up of late.
It is my hope that the independent bookstore may be immune from this fate. In fact, the indie bookstore was one of the earliest recipients of the economic damage wrought by other retailers, first with the appearance of big box Barnes & Noble stores, which put a large number of indies out of business, and then, of course, with the arrival of Amazon. Amazon serves multiple channels now, but it got its start as an online bookseller.
With the help of the American Booksellers Association, the independent bookseller community got a head start on fighting back against the shrinkage of bricks-and-mortar retail sales. Over the last several years, the number of independent bookstores in the United States has been growing, and numbers indicate that the health of the industry is good.
I hope I am not being overly optimistic in saying that I believe we can continue this upward trend, despite overall statistics about retail in the U.S. We booksellers will continue to create spaces that serve the communities in which they reside by providing personalized selling and events that reflect the make-up of the community. We have knowledgeable and passionate owners and employees, and, of course, we sell a product, the book (yes I know many object to calling it a product) that we hope our society finds to be indispensable.
Shopping on Amazon is easy and convenient, and often the prices beat what you can find in stores. But if you think your online purchases aren’t impacting the society in which you live, read this NY Times article and think again. And please consider, as much as possible, shopping local and shopping indie.