My friend Dean Wesley Smith has a great post up about how small publishers — even one person operations — can get their books into bookstores. Definitely recommend you read his post, even if you’re coming at this from the angle of a reader rather than a writer. Dean is right that this is just history repeating itself, but the big change is how little cost it takes to compete as a publisher these days. With POD (print-on-demand), you don’t need to have inventory on hand. You don’t even need a physical location at all, except perhaps a PO box. You can literally create a publishing empire from a laptop.
And he touches on a persistent myth that just won’t die. Yes, one big bookstore chain (Borders) went away and the other (B&N) is struggling to find itself, but there are hundreds of little independent bookstores popping up to take their place:
The American Booksellers Association, which represents independent bookstores, says its membership — it hit a low of 1,600 in 2008 — has grown 6.4 percent in 2013, to 2,022. Sales were up 8 percent in 2012, and those gains have held this year. [From http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/independent-bookstores-turn-a-new-page-on-brick-and-mortar-retailing/2013/12/15/2ed615d8-636a-11e3-aa81-e1dab1360323_story.html]
The American Booksellers Association announced this week in Bookselling This Week that it added 44 new bookstore members last year, including six branches of existing stores. California gained the most new stores, 10; followed by Michigan and New York, which each had four. In addition, 12 established stores were purchased by new owners, including Penguin Bookshop in Sewickley, Pa.; Inkwood Books in Tampa, Fl.; and Moby Dickens Bookshop in Taos, N.M.
In 2014, ABA already seems on track to continue expanding membership. Four stores have opened to date, including The Purple Chair in New Braunfels, Tex., and Blue Frog Books in Howell, Mich. Two stores have new owners. [From http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/bookselling/article/61136-aba-adds-44-stores-in-2013.html]
It’s true that a lot of these are gift stores and coffee shops who sell books among other things, but that’s a good thing. Rather than have a huge chunk of the retail shelf space dedicated to books controlled by a handful of buyers at a couple of superstores, we now have hundreds of small buyers who can cater to their local niches. Yes, we might not see the heyday of 5500 ABA members and 7000 stores that existed in 1995, especially with ebooks and online retailing taking a huge chunk of the book business, but bookstores have their place. If that weren’t true, their numbers wouldn’t be growing.