Online Retailers, Independent Bookstores, and the Places in Between


When people talk about the death of the bookstore, they often refer to small, local shops filled with the spirit of whatever neighborhood they inhabit.  In the last several years, however, those independent bookstores have experienced a minor resurgence. Now it is the large chains, the companies like Barnes & Noble, that have to find their place in the modern era. After all, Barnes & Noble can’t offer the same sense of community that an independent shop can, but it can’t compete with the goliath that is Amazon either.

The New Yorker recently published a great article by David Sax, “What Barnes & Noble Doesn’t Get about Bookstores”, that traces Barnes & Noble’s status over the last few decades. The piece describes the struggles of this period well, and I won’t do it an injustice by trying to summarize it here. I do, however, want to share a brief and loving excerpt that describes alternative bookstores.

“The independent bookstores that have proved successful are uniquely suited to the community they’re in. Some are big. Some are small. Some are homey and stitched together with found shelving. Others are practically works of art and architecture. They stock the books that the community wants, and, while their selections are minuscule compared with Barnes & Noble, the staff can speak to the books on those shelves with authority. In other words, they are all different…The brick-and-mortar stores that do best today are the ones people want to shop in, not the ones they have to.”

Despite the success of independent bookstores and Amazon, the future of brick and mortar stores remains amorphous. I’d love to hear how you think or hope that the next few years will treat these bookstores. Even though it wasn’t my ideal vision of a bookstore, I was heartbroken when the Borders Bookstore in my hometown went out of business – in retrospect, that was sign that the company would file bankruptcy a few, short years later – and I would regret losing some of the other book selling mainstays.

33 thoughts on “Online Retailers, Independent Bookstores, and the Places in Between

  1. I was also devastated when we lost the Borders in my city. But I’ve found lots of wonderful little bookstores that I love just as much, if not more. I’m not a fan of my Barnes & Noble… I hope little bookstores get noticed more and promoted more!

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Personally I think Barnes and Noble is on par with a lot of the other physical book sellers now, they aren’t a Goliath anymore and they do their best to integrate with the communities they’re in. I really hope they can stay open.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. They do seem to be putting in an effort to understand their customers and communities. I know that the one closest to me is really great about stocking local authors and hosting author events for them, which I love! The chain may just be going through some minor hiccups as it finds its new place in the industry.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Before the “chain” bookstores began disappearing, it seemed unusual to find an employee who was really interested in books, much less knowledgeable and enthusiastic about them. I do remember one such lady who worked at Waldenbooks in the Panama City (FL) Mall. Friendly, knowledgable, the epitome of a “bookseller.”
    I’ve found some of my most treasured books at “Friends of the Library” sales. Several old and hard-to-find first editions selling for fifty cents (hardback). There is a neighborhood bookshop nearby that does a great job with book sales and hosting author book signings. But I do miss the days of major chains in nearly every town or city. Water under the proverbial bridge.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. People who know books well are a dream to find in bookstores, but I’m sure it can be difficult to retain staff like that. (Though now that I think of it, I’m fairly certain there is a bookstore in New York that has applicants take a book quiz before they are hired.)

      But I’m greedy, I suppose. I want physical books to be easily accessible in chain bookstores, little, independent shops, and every kind of store in between. (And for passionate book lovers to work in those places.)

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I was also disappointed that Borders went out of business. I did find that the folks there knew books and, despite its size, it did have charm. I hate to admit this, but I rarely go into bookstores anymore. There was a very small one in walking distance, which has now shut-down, but I could very rarely find much of interest there. As always, interesting and informative post!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. My favorite bookstore ever was tiny, but it was homey. It was just down the road from my studio apartment and had great light. Now, I shop at big bookstores all the time, but that has more to do with the fact that I’m unaware of any other options near me. If I knew of other options, I’d explore them.

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  6. We have a few great community independent bookstores in Brisbane, the city where I live. They all have the characteristics you described: cater to local needs, knowledgeable staff, welcoming premises and they strongly support local authors. These shops are always busy.

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  7. There’s a great, little, used bookstore not far from home. I visit often. Sometimes, I simply need to breathe deep the aroma of old books.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Kristen, an interesting reflective post. Reading this I became quite nostalgic – sadly so as it shows how I feel that bookshops are becoming such a rarity. In the two towns closest to where I live there were once two thriving and wonderfully stocked bookshops – real hubs for socialising, ordering books and yes, the staff were so knowledgeable. Then, yes you guessed, they both closed. So did the other bookshops. Now we’re left with a small corner of books in newsagents. (The major cities obviously have the bigger bookstores but they’re never busy as they used to be.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I wish this wasn’t such a widespread trend. It does seem harder and harder to keep bookshops open, and I am sorry to hear that the ones near you closed. There is such pleasure to be had from browsing well stocked shelves that I hate the thought of that option disappearing.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. My issue with these bigger bookstores is that they claim to be bookstores, but when you walk in, the first thing you see isn’t always books. It’s random paraphernalia. It’s writing notebooks. It’s calendars. It’s dvds and music. Then you get to the actual book part of the store and there’s hardly anything. They never seem to have the first book in the series and half the shelf space is empty, offering spacing between new releases. It’s so limiting that it’s not even interesting to go and browse any more because I know there won’t be a good supply.

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  10. Loved the post and article about B&N. Where I live there are a few large B&N bookstores. I enjoy browsing the shelves but honestly I go there to read or relax more than to purchase books. Too many other inexpensive options for purchasing. My husband always comments on how our B&N could do so much better if they nixed the huge DVD section in the back. It’s like a third of the store and there’s hardly ever anyone back there purchasing overpriced DVD’s. Meanwhile, places to sit are minimal in the café section, and additional seating on the upstairs level is scarce. The furniture is worn and ratty. The rest of the store is clean and tidy for the most part, except the café area at times, but you don’t really get that warm snugly feeling that you should when you’re in a bookstore. They definitely need to make changes that would appeal more to the general public IMO. I am a champion of smaller, cozier bookstores any day. They give me the relaxed feeling I crave when seeking books, or if I just want a place to relax, drink a cup of tea and read. I think B&N should go smaller. Hopefully they’ll get it right before it’s too late. They’re not perfect, but with some changes and improvements I think they could re-emerge as a successful competitor.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My family is also in the habit of going to bookstores in order to enjoy the space. I’m sorry to hear that the places around you aren’t as comfortable as they could be; encouraging people to hang around the bookstores would make them more successful, I think.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I know I miss small book shops, they are so few and far between now. I used to love to lose myself amongst the labyrinth of shelves and bindings, while sipping a terrible tasting complimentary cup of joe. This next generation is really missing out.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Last Saturday, my husband and I drove to the Washington Square Mall ( just outside of Portland, OR) to check out Amazon Books, which is Amazon’s brick and mortar bookshop. I was skeptical and a little nervous, as the last thing that I wanted it to be, is something that will likely drive business away from my favorite independent book sellers. However, I was quite surprised by what they offered. They had a very limited selection of best sellers in each genre, all of the books placed on shelf face forward. It was pretty and inviting. My reading is diverse and certainly includes bestsellers, but Amazon did not invade on what I love most about my Indy bookstores- discovering small presses and authors. I feel like the smaller stores take the risk by stocking what they love, rather than what they absolutely know will sell. Amazon Books did have a section for local authors and a staff recommends shelf, but it was primarily stocked with what is already popular, like an extended version an airport bookstore. I would return, as the experience was a pleasure, but it certainly didn’t replace my favorite local stores. I’m just happy to busy bookstores in the world!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Interesting! I would love to check out one of Amazon’s physical bookstores because I am a curious creature. It certainly sounds like the shop has a place in the world, and I am glad to hear that it isn’t encroaching on the territory of other stores too much.

      I’m surprised that the store is a low stock one, but I imagine it helps Amazon direct customers to specific books, and I do like that folks browsing have the chance to see covers immediately.


      1. I was surprised at the size as well, it wasn’t much bigger than maybe a standard Apple store. It felt very much like an Apple store, with the way things were displayed- very spacious. I don’t think I will be a frequent customer and it certainly doesn’t replace the bookstores I already love, but I was happy to see it doesn’t compete. I’ve finished a blog review about Amazon Books, that I’m going to publish next Monday, if you’re interested, including pictures. It is pretty to see the covers facing forward.

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