Inside the World of Local Books—A Bright Future

So, I have to confess—I kind of expected that I'd be attending a grim event when I walked into the Tools of Change publishing conference last week. After all, just that morning, the announcement that Borders was filing for bankruptcy had hit the financial pages. Certainly the news of the country's second largest bookseller on the brink of collapse had to be weighing heavily on the minds of publishers.

After two days, no one had mentioned Borders even once.

In fact, the enthusiasm and exuberance among the crowd made me wonder if somehow they just hadn't heard the news. Finally, unable to keep it to myself, I posed the question at lunch on the final day to a publisher of how-to books from the midwest. "Oh, no, we're not surprised. But the industry will be just fine The ebook is growing at remarkable rate", she chirped.

On further investigation, I learned that two years ago this same group was morose, as books sales plummeted and ebooks hadn't shown up. But since then, and with the emergence of the Nook, the Kindle, and the iPad—there was no doubt that books would continue to be written and—most importantly—paid for. In fact, though the change from printed page to electronic was fraught with 'workflow' challenges, it was pretty clear that lots of things were going in the right direction.

Now I needed to explore. What about local bookstores—what would happen to them? Well, as it turns out folks at TOC mostly saw Borders going out of business as a good thing for the local bookseller. Yes, you heard that right.

There's already a growing movement of local ebook sellers. I didn't know that. Local institutions that are gathering places, social hubs and ebook mecca's.

Yes, it's true. Borders may well have tried to be the 'local' bookstore with 600 locations, but along the way they forgot about digital. Meanwhile, local bookstores that are truly indie are growing—and embracing both local events, community, and ebooks as part of their DNA.

One example of the emerging local bookstore is in the Fort Greene section of Brooklyn. Greenlight BookStore is a three year old community store opened with entrepreneural passion and huge community support. The store is vibrant, full of events and energy, and filling a critical need in the community. Just a quick look the web site of the store here: http://www.greenlightbookstore.com.

Rebecca Fitting and Jessica Stockton Bagnulo spent a combined 26 years working in bookstores—which is to say they knew what they were getting into. What they've build is a model for the new local bookseller, embracing the needs of the community and the emergence of ebooks as well.

It turns out readers need help finding the right text, whether that's to carry away in their hands, or download to their book reader. And this trend isn't limited to Brooklyn.

Upstate bookseller Suzanna Hermans told USA Today: "I know people think of independent bookstores as struggling underdogs," says Hermans, co-owner and manager of Oblong Books in this picturesque Hudson Valley town. "But if I was struggling, I wouldn't be expanding." She's about to break through a brick wall to enlarge her children's section "for my customers of the future."

"What stores need to do to survive is to make themselves special in some way. That can be about great coffee and desserts and comfortable chairs; it can also be about having an in-depth collection of printed materials and artifacts on some subject, probably of local interest. It will certainly often be about stocking used books as well as new books." said Mike Shatzkin, founder and CEO of the Idea Logical Co. in New York City, consultants to book publishers and specialists on the impact of digital change.

The association that is at the heart of local booksellers, indiebound, has even gone so far as to embrace Google's ebooks sales operation -giving memebers the tools to help guide and sell ebooks in a more personal and curated way.

Both Herman's Oblong Books, and Fort Green's Greenlight Bookstore are two of about 200 independent bookstores in a digital partnership with Google eBooks that began in December. Local store can sell ebooks from the store's websites, or in person. Embracing change while evolving to profit from it.

"Bookstores help create community for people in the places where they live. People may think they can live online, but in reality they live in real towns and cities, and physical bookstores help to enrich those places" said Hermans. "This is my career. This is what I love to do. I want to do it for the next 50 years."

Steven Rosenbaum is a entrepreneur, author, and video curator. His forthcoming book Curation Nation, will be published by McGrawHill this month. learn more: CurationNation.org

Follow Steve on Twitter @Magnify

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