How the Future of E-books and Independent Bookstores Are Tied Together


E-books have been a constant source of conversation—occasionally of quite panicked conversation—since they hit the market. In the first quarter of 2011, e-book sales were up 159.8%. For a time, it seemed as if digital books were on the way to overtaking print.

Yet what those numbers don’t show is that in 2010, Apple launched the first iPad. In that same year, Amazon also released the third generation Kindle and dropped the price to only $139. The new technology had driven sales up and would continue to do so for the next few years.

Now those numbers have stabilized. Consumers are familiar with e-reader technology. There hasn’t been a product as revolutionary as the Kindle or the iPad in several years. In fact, May 2017 was the first time that e-book sales have actually increased in the last two years.

This is all to say that print books are not going anywhere in the near future. In fact, an argument may be made that e-book sales will actually continue to decrease, while print sales may increase in the next few years. The cause? The wave of new independent bookstores.

Beginning in 2015, the publishing landscape began to see an increase in independent bookstores as consumers looked for something to fill the void that the collapse of the popular bookstore chain Borders had left. New independent bookstores have been popping up all over the country in the last few years.

With independent bookstores comes a sense of community and dedication to small local businesses, and consumers have shown that they will pay more to help those businesses thrive. A report published at the end of 2016 reported that survival rates of small business are at a three-decade high. In particular, millennials, who now make up the largest group of consumers, are more likely than previous generations to pay more to support local business, because millennials have a strong sense of community, like the personal experiences of shopping local, and value the knowledge that they’ve given back to the local economy. Consumers understand the value an independent bookstore brings to their communities, and they are willing to pay to help support them.

This all bodes very well for independent bookstores but not so well for e-books. If readers are buying their books from their independent bookstores, then they aren’t buying them from Amazon or the Barnes and Noble Nook store. In addition, the rise in digital fatigue has consumers making concentrated efforts to put the devices down. A study from April 2016 found that “25 percent of book buyers, including 37 percent of those 18–24 years old, want to spend less time on their digital devices. Since consumers almost always have the option to read books in physical formats, they are indicating a preference to return to print.”

As more bookstores pop up, they provide the perfect solution to the problem of digital fatigue. Readers have shown that indie bookstores and print books are important to them, and neither are going away anytime soon.