This morning, I heard a great panel discussion given by a group of independent booksellers from around Mississippi. I am fortunate to live in a state full of great independent bookstores, and I for one would like to see it stay that way.
While much of the discussion predictably focused on the evils of Amazon, I was most interested in hearing the booksellers' ideas of how to evolve their stores so that they can remain viable in a digital world in a country that is still in a recession.
Many of the booksellers mentioned that they have expanded their children's sections (yay!), and John Evans from Lemuria in Jackson, Mississippi, said that he was focusing on community outreach--he reaches out to schools, book clubs, and other groups, instead of waiting for those groups to come to him. He also said that social media has been a great way to reach his customers. The Lemuria blog has a huge following and is one of the best ones out there.
Richard Howorth at Square Books here in Oxford said that his bookstore offers a vital connection between authors and readers--something personal that you can't replicate online, and he also stressed that publishers rely on physical bookstores and the physical activity around them to create a market for their books. Author events and bookstore sponsored book clubs are some of the many ways his store fosters these connections.
All of the booksellers talked about tailoring their bookstores to fit the specific needs of their communities, and this is one of my favorite things about indies--each bookstore has its own unique flavor that reflects the culture around it. In a way, going into a great independent bookstore is like walking through a beautifully curated art collection.
This is something that can't be replicated by Amazon or any other big box store. And I'm obviously not the only person who feels this way. Richard mentioned that over the past couple of years, the number of new indies opening is on the rise.
Good news indeed!