The recent opening of Amazon.com’s first brick-and-mortar bookstore, Amazon Books, has filled my Facebook timeline with alarm, indignation and bitterness. Many swear this single act will be the final nail in the indie bookstore coffin. There’s ire directed at Amazon for being insensitive to the damage they’ve already done to indie bookstores with their wholesale buying/price cutting tactics. And once again people are talking about the paper-thin profit margins of regular bookstores.
People, get a grip. Amazon opened a bookstore. Not a meth lab or a casino or a porn shop. They sell (gasp!) books. Yes, I realize indie bookstores can’t compete with Amazon’s wholesale prices, but GAWD, it’s one bookstore. Today when most of our waking hours are stuck behind a screen, it’s refreshing to have one more way to engage people in some old-fashioned page turning.
As to the argument that Amazon.com has killed the indie bookstore, well call me Polyanna, but I see it as an opportunity to become better indie bookstores. Listen, I love reading mysteries, but I will never write like Hitchcock or Connelly or Jance or Christie. I’m me. I won’t apologize for my perspective, my visual prose, my multi-cultural characters or my obsession with addition history to my stories.
Amazon.com has forced indie bookstores to look at themselves differently, too. And the successful ones are evolving at lightening speed. Instead of fixating on the places where Amazon chops them at the knees (market reach, pricing, to name a few) successful indie bookstores are taking a close look at what they already deliver better that Amazon can’t. An intimate vibe. Helpful staff. Sense of community. Author showcase space. Access to indie books.
Ten minutes from my house is one of these success stories, Third Place Books. Enter their doors any day of the week and you will find a bustling, thriving bookstore. With a schedule packed with author signings and special events, there is a steady parade of foot traffic at Third Place Books. Patrons come to engage with authors, sip coffee, buy books, print indie books on demand and find gifts. By focusing on what makes them special, Third Place Books has become the heart of their community. What’s more? They support indie authors (not always the case with bottom-line obsessed bookstores). In fact, their espresso book printing service can print a book for you in thirty short minutes. Mindblowing, right? Yeah, even if Amazon.com had drone service, they couldn’t compete with THAT!
Need another example of how competition with Amazon.com has made indies stronger? Take a look at the new trend, specialty bookstores, and you’ll understand. Book Larder in Seattle, Washington specializes in cookbooks. They offer cooking classes, and they sell cooking stuff. Their schedule of events keeps a steady flow of foot traffic coming into the store. The cooking lessons themselves bring addition revenue and book sales. Genius. They’ve made themselves relevant to their customer base and are thriving as a result. Another Seattle-based specialty bookshop is Seattle Mystery Bookstore. Their events calendar is a who’s-who list of modern mystery bestsellers. Because mystery readers shop here, the authors come, sign books and connect with readers. Everybody wins.
In other corners of my city, indie bookshops are staffed with bookaholics – smart savvy consumers of books, they help readers discover new favorites. These vital people and places will never be retail dodos. As long as they do what they do best, they’ll never be rendered obsolete by Amazon.com. As long as they continue to push and evolve, they will be successful and relevant. And better.