How Traditional Bookstores are Thriving

Aug 14, 2013

New York's Books of Wonder turned to an online fundraising campaign last fall and raised $50,000. (Photo courtesy of Books of Wonder)

Locked into a technology-driven market dominated by digital e-books and online superstores like Amazon, independent bookstores have turned to unconventional strategies to survive.

Independent bookstores are using an array of approaches to fend off these formidable competitors – from hosting lunches with renowned book authors to selling vintage clothing lines that complement the bookstore’s worn bookshelves.

Some bookstores have even combined strategies. For example, 22 year-old Travis Kent, co-owner of Farewell Books in Austin, Texas, has invited local entrepreneurs to set up shop in the struggling bookstore. By expanding its offerings to include a tailor, coffee shop, clothing store, and a sandwich trailer, Farewell has found a few of the secret ingredients behind bookstores’ resurgence. And now, all of those independent sides of the business are thriving under the same roof.     

Brick-and-mortar bookstores are also experimenting with new technology and develop innovative ways to keep their customers loyal.

In a recent New York Times piece, Julie Bosman reported on bookstores’ latest tactic for survival: crowdfunding.

Crowdfunding refers to people networking to collectively pool their money and support a specific organization, and it has helped grow many of this nation’s businesses. (Go here to see how crowdfunding has also helped wearable technology small businesses)

Many bookstore entrepreneurs, particularly, have enjoyed recent success using crowdfunding techniques in the face of rent increases and other post-recession challenges. In the article, Bosman cited several of these success stories:

  • In San Francisco, CA, Adobe Books raised $60,000 last fall through, a crowdfunding site used by many startup companies.
  • In Asheville, NC, the Spellbound Children’s Bookshop collected more than $5,000 through crowdfunding when they were forced to change locations.
  • In Manhattan’s Flatiron district, Books of Wonder raised more than $50,000 last fall.

These three stores and others have used websites like Indiegogo and Kickstarter to help them design their online platforms and explain their fundraising goals to customers.

The Bookstore in Chico, California has also experienced great success through crowdfunding. Store Manager Josh Mills raised $36,000 in two months through Indiegogo to keep the store alive. According to Bosman, “donations seemed to come from everywhere: Mr. Mills received $25 from one former customer in Hawaii who heard about the store’s plight via e-mail from a friend in France. Acquaintances threw local fund-raisers, serving wine, crostini and deviled eggs, and then funneled the money into the online campaign.”

Mills described his hesitation to use this platform:

“I felt strange about asking for money that way — baring my soul and sharing my personal business is not what I do. Bookstores are sort of an endangered industry for lots of reasons. But it would have left a huge hole in our little community if we had gone away.”

 Crowdfunding should not necessarily be a business’s go-to profit driver, but it is certainly one of a series of approaches that small businesses can use to generate much needed revenue and increase their customer base.   

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