The phrase, ‘look for a book and look behind it,’ was frequently employed in my childhood home to describe my bookworm tendencies; I have vivid memories of being caught devouring novels in math class (apologies, Mr. Caulfield); and to this day, if I’m deep in a story, people can say my name repeatedly and receive no response (particularly annoying to my husband, I believe). I love to read – it’s like a mini-vacation just for me, every evening, and even though I now have a Kindle, there is simply nothing like reading a book in print. The entire sensory experience is different – from the way my eyes process the written word, to the tactile experience of feeling and turning pages, to the crisp smell reminiscent of wood and forest.
So while we may indeed be seeing the end of the big bookstore, I’m thrilled that both new and established independent bookstores are finding success. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend reading this article from the Press Herald about independent bookstores in and around Portland, Maine: http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/06/new-bookstore-opening-in-portland/
In conjunction with some statistics about childhood education I heard on the radio last week, this article inspired this post about bringing back the book. People may ask why, and how, these small, independent stores can be successful. Borders failed, despite their vast selection; Barnes & Noble struggles despite offering coffee and wifi – so how do the little guys do it?
First, as with all buying trends, this one too will change, but at the moment, we’re seeing a shift away from big box stores and rock bottom prices to a willingness to spend more for a great experience and support of local businesses (#buylocal, anyone?). I’d further speculate that like small tech startups, small bookstores can be more nimble than big stores with massive inventory. This agility enables them to respond more quickly to what their audience wants to read than a large, impersonal chain – which brings me to my second point: it is actually possible for them to know and learn what that audience wants (and no, I don’t mean by spending big bucks on big data analysis). This is the natural result of owners and team members being personally engaged in their communities and with their customers. These people know each other. They eat at the same restaurants, enjoy the same craft breweries, attend the same churches, etc etc.
From the expanding Gottwals Books here in Middle Georgia to Print, Longfellow Books, Sherman’s, and Letterpress Books in Maine (all referenced in the above article) – not to mention a charming, secondhand bookstore in Asheville, North Carolina that I can no longer remember the name of – these stores are listening and responding to what their communities need, and reaping the benefits.They may not be able to offer every book by every author that every patron wants, but the independent bookstore compensates for this with knowledgeable service and personal attention: if they don’t have exactly what you’re looking for, chances are they can help you find something similar – or possibly even better.
But to go beyond market influences and great customer service for a moment – the following summarizes just a snippet of what I heard on the radio recently:
- Children comprehend and retain more of what they read from a printed book than an e-book (a big deal when you think about the fact that education is what gives us the power to change our lives)
- People who read on screen take on average 10 minutes longer to fall asleep than those who read print – and are more likely to experience poor quality sleep (sleep is such an important part of your mental and physical health, and we are already too sleep-deprived as a nation)
- The tactile and visual experience of turning pages and comprehending reading progress plays a role in both enjoyment and retention, and increases likelihood (in textbooks) of completing intermediate assessments of material
So I’m saying ‘hurrah’ to these independent bookstores, and good luck. Let’s bring back the books. Books have given me so many valuable adventures. They have broadened my horizons, provided escape, entertained and challenged me. Perhaps best of all, I can never read and experience one the same way twice. I’m constantly changing and growing, so the stories do, too.