How to Keep Bookstores Alive in the Age of Digital Reading

Article by Maria Orlandi

There used to be only one way to read: On paper, in a book. Hard copy books and paper newspapers were the only ways to get your information and literature before film or audio technology. But over the years – over the centuries – technology has caught up with demand and now instead of just one way to read, there are dozens. Audiobooks, podcasts, kindles, nooks – there’s no end to the ways you can consume your literature.

What does this new technology mean for physical books? Now that we don’t have to travel to a bookstore to get what we need, there’s little need for them to stay open anymore. Many individuals have come to favor e-readers because of their portability, the reduced prices they offer, and for their ability to store hundreds of books on one little screen. But because of this, there’s already been a visible decline in physical bookstores. For example, Borders bookstore, a huge bookstore akin to Barnes & Noble, ceased its production in 2011 because of a lack of demand, among other things.

And every day, independent bookstores struggle to stay afloat. So what does it really take to open a bookstore in this new age of digital reading?  

Bookstores of the 21st century have new expectations. Customers assume they will offer something they haven’t seen before – something they’ll be intrigued by and want to return to. When Summer Robinson, owner of the independent Pilot Books, began her bookstore in 2009 she had a vision of creating a community of readers around her personal collection of titles – a mere 600 books to begin with. Her mission attracted a passionate group of individuals but she sadly went out of business a mere two years later. Apparently, passion and a dedication to your vision isn’t enough anymore. Future bookstores owners need to know that besides enthusiasm and a love for literature, they also have to consider the more practical side of the world.

One New York Times article from 2016 explains what future bookstore owners really need to think about in order make their dream a reality. The article emphasizes both finances and location – important things to keep in mind for any new business, but especially for new independent bookstores. Independent bookstores need to be able to fall back on some cushiony savings, especially since they won’t always pay for themselves in the beginning.

A successful bookstore requires its owner to commit to tough times at the beginning, knowing that it will all be worth it in the end. The location is another crucial factor – a bookstore must be started in an area where there is a demand for books as well as a community who is able to financially support the bookstore.

And last but not least, your bookstore has to have a vision and a mission. It should be a place where readers feel comfortable exploring, where they can feel a new community growing around them, and where they can connect with other lovers of literature.

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