What’s behind the independent bookstore renaissance?

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Common knowledge would lead you to believe that brick and mortar bookstores have been in a downward spiral ever since Amazon gained prominence in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. As it turns out, competition from online retailers has affected big-box bookstores much more than their smaller locally owned counterparts. Although Amazon and other large online retailers have definitely added to the competitive challenges indie bookstores face, small independent book retailers are experiencing something of a modern renaissance. According to the American Booksellers Association, since 2009, the number of independent bookstores in the U.S. has grown 40%, meaning there are hundreds more bookstores open now than a decade ago. Surprised?

So what’s behind the modern independent bookstore renaissance? For one, the shuttering of most big box bookstores has been a boon to independent bookstores. There is still a large constituent of book-buyers, for whom the in-person book buying experience is irreplaceable. Marketing and management technologies have helped small business owners become more efficient. Most importantly, local bookstores are taking advantage of their ability to generate word of mouth. Indie bookstores are creating signature events, unique experiences that get customers talking to friends and relatives, and bring them back more often.  Small bookstores often host book signings, musical acts, and other local events that make for great customer experiences and increased word of mouth.

According to one independent bookstore owner in Ohio, “word of mouth – including mentions in some “hidden gem” articles about Columbus – has proved to be the store’s most effective publicity.” (Independent bookstores hold own against online giants, www.dispatch.com)

There’s a lesson in this story from which any business, not just small local booksellers, should take note. While new technology has allowed your larger competitors unprecedented access to customers near you, it has also provided you the ability to level the playing field by leveraging your word of mouth. The factors that are driving the independent bookstore segment to grow in the face of increasing online competition are the same factors that can drive growth in any local business. We’ve seen it in our work at boomtime, and have built it into our Word of Mouth Marketing system. To drive word of mouth in today’s world, you need to design for mobile and make sure that you’re set up for local SEO. You need to know who your customers and referrals are by collecting their information online and in person. Then you can begin to build the type of word of mouth that grows businesses by reaching out to your customers regularly with compelling content. Word of mouth really is the most powerful form of marketing, just take a look at America’s growing local independent bookstore industry.

All the best,

Bill Bice

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