When mega-bookstore chains made their way into shopping malls, independent bookstores couldn’t keep up with the competition. When electronic books entered the market, most of the remaining indie bookstores had to close. But in the last 10 years, it seems that independent bookstores are making a comeback.
In 2017, unit sales of traditionally published e-books fell 10 percent compared to 2016, according to figures released by PubTrack Digital , which tracks digital sales from approximately 450 publishers.
PubTrack reported that 162 million e-books were sold in 2017 compared to 180 million units sold the year prior.
And in 2017, 687 million books were sold compared to 674 million sold in 2016, according to NPD BookScan, which tracks 85 percent of print book sales. Book sales started to increase every year since 2013, and 2017 sales were up at least 10 percent since then.
Independent bookstore owners in Southwest Florida have noticed readers are slowly shifting back to traditional books.
“We’re starting to see the pendulum swing,” Cathy Graham said, who is the co-owner of Copperfish Books in Punta Gorda. “In the age of social media, people have a desire to be more social in person,” she explained.
Copperfish Books is one of three independent bookstores within a 10-mile radius of each other in Charlotte County. All are very unique but the one thing they have in common, besides books is they had to figure out how to stand out and keep up with the times.
“One of the things that we have done differently than other more traditional bookstores is that we have a very thorough approach to having new and used books,” Heidi Lange said, who is the owner of Sandman Book Company in Punta Gorda, Fla.
“If E-readers were going to be something to put bookstores out of business, libraries would have done that already,” she said.
Over at Copperfish, Cathy said she and her partner, Serena Wyckoff, seek to reinvent the store every year. “We’re always just paying attention to what’s going on, listening to our customers," Cathy said, "and making changes where we need too."
For the last 12 years, Marion Zanot, who is the owner of Book Traders in Port Charlotte, believed that when e-books arrived she was sure that would have been the end of the book market. But she said she didn’t see a big drop in sales.
“A year and a half, maybe two years, customers started drifting back,” she said.
Data shows younger generations are leading the way for technology, but Marion notices there is still a solid group that are leaving e-books behind. “We still young people coming in wanting real actual books in their hands,” Zanot said.
In the grand scheme of things, bookstores are back and thriving. You might think that Cathy, Heidi and Marion are competing against each other.
That’s not the case.
Instead, they are working together to keep independent bookstores alive, with the goal to stay ahead of technological curve.