It seems counter-intuitive, but the advent and adoption of the ereader may very well give small bookshops a much-welcomed boost in the arm. With hardcore readers using the Kobo ereader and other devices to devour new titles with unheard of fervor, the market for big box bookstores begins to shrink. Why buy a physical book when buying it online & uploading it into a handheld device is cheaper, easier?
Of course, this phenomenon seems to apply more to bestsellers rather than titles that have been on the shelves for a while. Some e-readers do include a selection of classics (Beowulf, Great Expectations, The Count of Monte Cristo), but from what I’ve seen, these are largely ignored — mostly because people already own or would prefer to buy a print copy. It’s this preference for older/rare print and paper books that may very well keep the independent bookstore alive.
No, I’m not suggesting that every single store stock up on antique books. What I am saying, though, is that now would be a great time to start focusing a little more on a specific genre or two; carrying titles that wouldn’t translate well into the e-reader medium.
A good place to start would be graphic novels. Yes, I’m sure there are booksellers out there that equate graphic novels to literary porn, and I’m not here to convert anyone that’s dead set against selling them in their store. But, if you’ve already set aside shelf space for a few, consider a sizeable expansion. It would be wise to read one or two, as well — Neil Gaimans Sandman series and George R.R. Martin’s Hedge Knight I & II are both brilliant reads.
If graphic novels aren’t your cup of tea, then I’d suggest specializing in hobbies, crafts & cooking. E-readers are great for travel, but does anyone really want one on the counter while trying to make Coq au vin for the first time? Be a little picky, too, and offer what you feel are worthwhile titles. Your’s can be the shop where everyone in town comes to grab that hard-to-find Julia Childs cook book — you know, the one that’s worth $100. Or you could make a name for yourself in the geek community by selling things like Zombie Needle Point & Cross Stitch.
My experience has shown me that non-fiction titles aimed at specific readers are almost guaranteed sellers. And the more specific & esoteric in nature, the more profit there is to be had. The owner of my favourite reading hole once aquired a pamphlet on basic pagan beliefs. Initially, he had listed it at only a few dollars, only to discover it was actually worth $40 — the price it ultimately sold for. Again, some of you may have an aversion to peddling literature of this kind, but there are plenty of other distinctly-flavoured books you can offer that will help keep you in the red.
Well, those are just a few off-the-top ideas. The main thing is to find what works for your business model. And if what you’re doing is already working, then keep at it. But, when it looks like the giants of the book world (Borders, in particular) might be the verge of destruction, the dwarves and hobbits need to be ready to carve themselves a niche out of the ruins.