How bookstores have survived in a time where e-commerce dominates

In 2017, Amazon sold roughly 312 million print books. That’s more than 854,000 books per day and 35,000 per hour. It’s no mystery why Amazon is a dominant force in many industries – book sales included. So it begs the question: how do bookstores still exist?  

According to Phoenix-based Changing Hands bookstore owner Cindy Dach, brick-and-mortar stores thrive by capitalizing on the best aspects of retail. Although venturing to the local bookstore may not be as convenient as a 30-second checkout process, it has other redeeming qualities that keep people coming in. 

NPD BookScan reported over 687 million physical book units sold in 2017; that means that Amazon commandeers roughly 45 percent of the book market – and that doesn’t even account for the company’s unrivaled e-book sales.

“Books are a very tactile experience,” Dach said. “And as much as you need a book or you’ve heard about a book and you want to click and get it, there’s this sensory experience when you touch a spine, you pull it out, you smell that smell of a new book, you skip through it, and then you have that element of discovery — what’s on the shelf next to it and what did you walk by. And that’s one area that online just can’t compete with — that tactile experience and that instant gratification.”

Dach also considers a physical bookstore to be less of a marketplace and more of a community-gathering space. Whether someone is coming in to find a gift for a family member, meeting up for a weekly book club event, or meeting a colleague for coffee, people of all ages utilize bookstores to interact with their peers. 

In fact, on Friday July 26th and Saturday July 27th, Changing Hands is hosting its annual parties that commemorate the anniversary of Harry Potter. With Friday restricted to adults and Saturday targeted towards families and kids, the events are perfect examples of community-centric features that bookstores deliver.

“A key to our success is being nimble,” Dach said. “You know, something happens in politics or in the world, we can — in that day — come up with some event or some display or order in books that speak to that time. In no way are we set in our ways…we’re a really unique space. Here, there are so few bookstores, so what I think what’s most important for survival is that we all are in contact with each other and support each other, because we all need each other.”

Ben Norman

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