Another one bites the dust. Why is the independent bookstore dying?

Is it just me, or are a lot of indie bookstores closing? I just read the May issue of Ottawa Magazine, in which the demise of neighbourhood favourite Nicholas Hoare Bookstore was mourned by journalist Phil Jenkins. Apparently, the combination of high rent and the sudden influx of e-book popularity was responsible for the closure. Increasingly, independent bookstores are being forced to close their doors because sales are not what they used to be.  In the end, after 18 years of business, Nicholas Hoare decided to sacrifice its prime, elegant location on Sussex Drive.

But, let’s be realistic. The e-book industry isn’t completely responsible for all this chaos. It’s not that powerful. Yes, the kobo and the kindle are convenient little gadgets with millions of customers, but let’s scratch beyond the surface, shall we? With the rising cost of paper, who has the money to purchase hardcovers? Some tomes run upwards of $40 per novel! I can’t remember the last time I bought a hardcover on sale, let alone full price. Even a trip to Costco, which usually results in a 30% discount, can’t justify the spending. Throw into the mix a mortgage, growing children, car payments, electricity and water bills, credit card bills, and home repairs — and stagnant salaries — it shouldn’t be a surprise that no one has the disposable income for a couple of $20 books. As a result, the independent retailers suffer, mom and pop stores that have been in business for 20 or 30 years vanish one by one. Box stores like Chapters, on the other hand, who can afford to purchase in bulk and comfortably ride the wave of economic uncertainty, aren’t plagued by the same level of anxiety. Other forms of income are readily available to them, such as online sales… another nail in the indie retailer coffin.

Could Jenkins be ignoring one key factor? Yes, e-books are readily available and convenient, but they are significantly cheaper than real books. I wouldn’t call myself an advocate for the e-book industry; however, I am an advocate for healthy finances, saving, and feeling financially secure. I could either buy $30 worth of groceries, or I can get a copy of John Grisham’s latest. Honestly, I’ll likely purchase the food. Not to mention, have you noticed that $30 doesn’t buy as much food as it used to? Milk is nearly $5 and bread is in the $3 range. Fresh fruits and vegetables, when in season, don’t break the bank, but have you ever tried to find a pint of strawberries in the middle of Februrary? Be prepared to pay handsomely. Holy crap, don’t even mention the price of peanut butter and cheese! Although the cost of Canadian dairy is notoriously high, I still roll my eyes at $7 cheddar.

Just like the process of losing weight, the independent bookstore industry is all about numbers. If sales are low and rent is high, what can you do? Force people to open their wallets and cough up the dough? Obviously not. If the customer, the backbone of every legitimate business venture, can’t afford the expense, no amount of advertising will make a difference.

So, what do you think? Join the discussion! Is the independent bookstore dying because of the e-book industry or inflation? Have you noticed any changes in your neighbourhoods? Please share! I’d love to hear your thoughts. How can we help save our fave indie bookstores!?

2 thoughts on “Another one bites the dust. Why is the independent bookstore dying?

  1. I think the main problem is discounting. £12 or £15 isn’t that much money for a week’s entertainment, considering that these days it costs £10 to see a film at the cinema, but when you know you can get that same book half price at a supermarket, online or chain bookstore, why would you go to an independent and pay full price? I try to use independent bookshops but can’t always justify paying twice as much as I have to.

    Another culprit of failing independents is the change in shopping habits from visiting a series of small, specialised shops to going to one big supermarket or a mall full of big chains.As a result the specialised shops have been closing for decades. Bookshops are just one of the many casualties. I live in a lovely small neighbourhood with low car ownership and no giant supermarket but we have no bookshop, bakery, butcher or fishmonger. We’re working as a community to encourage those kind of businesses back (we now have two greengrocers and a great craft/gift shop) but it’s not easy once everyone is out of the habit of using them.

    One way for indie bookshops to save themselves seems to be to offer more than books. Holding author events or community stuff like book groups and kids’ reading hour gets people in through the door.

    • I can’t agree more. Online prices and box stores just can’t be beat. Like you, I simply can’t justify spending full price on a hard cover, or paperback for that matter. You’re also right about the specialised shops. Department and chain stores are just so convenient and, if you live in the country, a one-stop shopping destination.

      Definitely. Offering more than books, a special experience, is a great way for indie bookstores to keep their customers!

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