How Indies Should Compete with Amazon

Great article here about how independent bookstores should compete with Amazon, which is essentially by not competing with Amazon. The fact is that indie bookstores will never out-Amazon Amazon, because they got into their business because they love books, and Jeff Bezos invented Amazon because he loves technology.

So, indies should emphasize their strengths, which tend to be Amazon’s weaknesses:

Here in the Boston area, two bookstores have managed to not only survive but thrive: the Harvard Bookstore (not affiliated with Harvard University) in Cambridge and Brookline Booksmith in Brookline. These two stores have a few elements in common that have undoubtedly contributed to their lasting success:

  • In addition to new books, they also sell a great selection of used titles at lower prices.
  • They have robust websites that offer options to buy online with quick local delivery (the Harvard Bookstore even offers next-day delivery by bicycle to select areas) as well as blog posts and features.
  • They have interesting and revelatory staff selections.
  • They each host over 100 readings a year (Brookline Booksmith hosts around 150, and Harvard Bookstore is closer to 300).
  • Both stores have been enthusiastic with their response when approached by Black Ocean to sell our titles.

Pretty much every indie that I’ve seen flourish in the Bay Area is doing similar stuff.

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Surely the geographical concentration of serious readers in the Boston area is an essential factor in the survival of these indies (though of course, the services described above might well explain why these particular indies have survived, even while others have gone under). One major problem with living in the Midwest is that there simply is not the same concentration of readers to support quality independent bookshops, even in some largish cities (such as Nashville, where the new Ann Patchett-headed store, despite media fanfare, is in my opinion extremely disappointing, insofar as it stocks hardly any small-press titles). Amazon and other online retailers solve the basic distribution problem for isolated readers, but nearly all the other associated pleasures of book shopping are lost.

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