In Shelf Talkers, we ask independent booksellers to share their wisdom. Rebecca George is the co-owner of Volumes Bookcafe in Wicker Park, Chicago.
1. Bookstores are not dying
The mentality surrounding bookstores and the perpetuation of this idea is ridiculous. Bookstores are thriving, despite this idea that saving 2 or 3 dollars by absolutely all means necessary has become the cultural norm. Want a bookstore in your neighborhood? Well, those few extra bucks are the price to keep them there. Independent bookstores aren’t intentionally trying to gouge their customers. Publishers set the price on books, and the margins are some of the thinnest in any industry ever. Online and big box retailers pay significantly less for the same books and they often price them for less than what bookstores are paying to acquire them. If bookstores could give you a deal, they would. They can’t. That is the price of having them around.
That being said, new bookstores are opening every month nation wide. Several bookstores are opening new locations in their surrounding communities. Their survival, however, rests in the young recognizing that bookstores are also in the 21st century. They’re right there with you – constantly moving and changing to adapt and provide better community spaces for you – wherever you are. All it takes is bookmarking their website — and TALKING to them. Bookstores might often be quiet(er) places, but they are there to have a conversation with you, for however long you’re willing.
2. Bookstores are engaged in the community.
I say all levels, because bookstores are not only committed to representing their immediate community, but if you are looking for a place that might have some insight on the current political landscape, on women’s rights, or perhaps something more specific – you’ll likely find an event where those conversations are happening. Meet authors. Meet poets. Meet artists. Meet you neighbors. Bookstore events are diverse and typically free and open to the public. Try something new. You might be surprised how much you like it.
3. Booksellers know books. For real, though.
Booksellers read a heck of a lot. Sometimes more than a book a week. We know about books, and we spend our days talking about books, reading about books and listening to customers who talk about books the booksellers haven’t read. Booksellers are there to HELP you find what you are looking for. Have a troubling relative that is impossible to shop for? Booksellers can help. Want to give your down in the dumps friend a book to lift their spirits? Booksellers can help. Looking to expand your reading horizons and escape into something completely different? Booksellers can help.
4. We are online (GASP!)
I know, right? How novel! (Pun intended.) Every independent bookstore in America has a website. Most of them can process orders online. You can also check stock of the book you’re looking for before you go in. Better yet, even if the bookstore doesn’t have the book, you can order the book for pick-up. It doesn’t cost extra.
Can’t come into the bookstore until the weekend? Order your books online for pick-up and they’ll be ready when you have time.
Have several indies in your area? Try IndieBound. Select a book and they’ll point you to a bookstore near you.
5. Hold on to your panty-hose: We sell ebooks and audiobooks!
KOBO is a great ebook company — a portion of every ebook you purchase goes to your favorite indie bookstore. They not only have affordable e-readers, they also have an app that works exactly like a Kindle app, so you can read on your phone or any device that supports apps.
Also, Libro.fm is a great alternative to Amazon’s audible. It works THE EXACT SAME WAY and it supports your favorite indie. Seriously. Why aren’t you downloading the app right this second?
6. You can pre-order books before they come out!
Know your favorite author has a book coming out? Great. They’ll have it waiting for you the day it comes out. Don’t live close to an indie bookstore? That’s okay. They can ship it to you as well. This can ALL be achieved online.
7. Bookstores make a lot of pretty Instagram posts.
Bookstagramming is an artform, and many bookstores do it very well. Each indie bookstore has a unique personality, and Instagram is where you’ll see it.
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Rebecca George is the co-owner of Volumes Bookcafe - a hybrid independent bookstore & cafe in Chicago's Wicker Park neighborhood.