Back in the 1990s, the big box bookstore was the enemy of the culture lover. As Borders and Barnes & Noble moved into your town, smaller, locally-owned bookstores were their victims. Given the size of a big B&N and the selection that such a warehouse-sized store could offer, the little guys were quickly squeezed out.

But something funny happened over the next decade or so, as Amazon took the inventory advantages of the big box store, and undercut the chains on price (a recent Scholarly Kitchen commenter described Amazon as, “not really a retail company, since it does not make money that way…Amazon is an investment vehicle, in which consumer traffic generates cash flow which Amazon leverages for growth, yielding investment income”). Now Borders is gone, and B&N is shrinking.

At the same time, independent bookstores have risen from the ashes, with the American Booksellers Association reporting 35% growth in the number of such stores from 1,651 to 2,227. Harvard Business School professor Ryan Raffaelli has been researching the cause for this resurgence, and the video below presents some of his thoughts on the subject.

David Crotty

David Crotty

David Crotty is a Senior Consultant at Clarke & Esposito, a boutique management consulting firm focused on strategic issues related to professional and academic publishing and information services. Previously, David was the Editorial Director, Journals Policy for Oxford University Press. He oversaw journal policy across OUP’s journals program, drove technological innovation, and served as an information officer. David acquired and managed a suite of research society-owned journals with OUP, and before that was the Executive Editor for Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, where he created and edited new science books and journals, along with serving as a journal Editor-in-Chief. He has served on the Board of Directors for the STM Association, the Society for Scholarly Publishing and CHOR, Inc., as well as The AAP-PSP Executive Council. David received his PhD in Genetics from Columbia University and did developmental neuroscience research at Caltech before moving from the bench to publishing.


2 Thoughts on "Why Independent Bookstores Work in the Age of Amazon"

Thanks for this post, David! Perfect accompaniment to the opening of a new branch of Book Culture today here in Queens.

Good post, David. Everything mentioned is just an echo of why local libraries are important, will continue to be valued (despite the critics who dismiss them), and are centers of their communities without a financial motive.
It’s the service, stupid!

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