To David Streitfeld, upon reading his article “Bookstore Chains, Long in Decline, Are Undergoing a Final Shakeout” in the technology section of the New York Times
To riff on your clever Hemingway quote, there are two ways your recent article about the bookselling industry frustrated me—at first, just a little bit, and after a few more readings, a whole lot.
You set out to write about the death of bookstore chains like Book World, but you roped independent bookstores into your obituary, and ended up with a disingenuous mash-up that mangled the facts.
The fate of Book World is not the fate of independent bookstores, which are on the rise. The steady comeback of independent bookstores is so well-reported, I can’t imagine an award-winning journalist such as yourself could have missed it.
Between 2009 and 2015, the American Booksellers Association reported a 35 percent growth in the number of independent bookstores, from 1,651 to 2,227.
It’s simply incorrect to say “bookstores are undergoing a final shakeout,” and your quotes from the mouths of jobless Book World staff about the death of “bookstores” are terribly misleading. You even visited a few Book World stores during the chain’s liquidation sale and reported that traffic was slow! That’s like showing up late to a party and complaining that the wine bottles are empty.
You even used a thriving independent bookseller to back up your claims. Daniel Goldin, one of the most innovative and nimble booksellers in the country, indeed has an independent bookstore so rooted in his community he can turn on a dime. Boswell Book Company is the type of successful bookstore whose numbers are increasing.
I suppose history will be right there with you, saying Book World was the victim of the rise of e-commerce and the convenience of buying books online, and that their locations in struggling shopping malls were the anchor that drew them under. But like your article, these statements are only partially true. Much more has to be said about Book World's sales model to fully understand what brought it down.
I talked with Mark Dupont, Book World’s senior vice president and one of my colleagues. He says, “Chains are difficult to maintain because everything happens from the top down. You can’t cultivate the local community and clientele the same way you can with a single store who has a committed owner and is passionate about their business.”
All of this reminds me of another famous passage from Hemingway in A Farewell to Arms. “The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills.”
Changes in the marketplace will kill those too inflexible to adapt. But those who do, like savvy independent booksellers, come out stronger and better than ever. Now that’s a story I want to read.
Midwest Independent Booksellers Association
Book World, a regional, family-run chain of bookstores founded in 1976, is closing all 45 of its locations. But the fate of Book World is not the fate of independent bookstores, which are on the rise.
by Carrie Obry
As has been reported by Publishers Weekly and Book World's website, all Book World locations are closing across the upper Midwest. While it's a blow to these communities that the bookstores they have relied on for so many years are closing, the loss of this many stores is also an opportunity. Book World owned all of its buildings and fixtures, and everything is up for sale. Along with each sale comes knowledge of Book World's top-earning locations, insight into each store's finances, and also a built-in customer base. At the time of posting this article, two locations have been sold, and two are in negotiation. Scroll to the bottom of this post to see a list of available properties, and click here to see more detail about the fixtures. We encourage all interested parties, from individuals to chambers of commerce, to circulate these opportunities far and wide.
To express interest, please contact Mark Dupont at email@example.com.
Of prime importance to the sale of these locations is the fact that independent bookstores, much unlike chains, are experiencing a renaissance while simultaneously embracing the digital age. Between 2009 and 2015, the American Booksellers Association reported a 35 percent growth in the number of independent bookstores, from 1,651 to 2,227. Independent bookstores are “thriving in ways that no one really expected,” says Ryan Raffaelli of Harvard Business School, who studies how industries faced with huge technological change reinvent themselves. “What makes these bookstores so unique is they understand the local community they’re operating in in ways that are quite different than the large mass retailers.”
History will say that Book World was the victim of the rise of e-commerce and the convenience of buying books online, and that their locations in struggling shopping malls were the anchor that drew them under. But these statements are only partially true. Much more has to be said about Book World's sales model to truly understand the forces at play, and why they are closing while independent bookstores numbers are increasing.
Centrally run out of Appleton, Wisconsin, Book World didn't get involved in the book industry the way individual independent booksellers do, preferring to skip trade shows and lucrative bookseller/publisher relationship-building in favor of their specific regional approach. Individual store managers had limited buying power, leading to a feeling of sameness across all stores. Managers booked author events if they wanted, but they drew only from personal network, which rarely resulted in big names, and no one at Book World tapped into popular author touring schedules by partnering with publishers' marketing plans. Because it is hard to advertise in 45 markets, they often skipped it altogether (except when social media rose to prominence, which they used frequently). And all Book Worlds had that same mall-type feel, even when they were located on Main Street.
Book World was founded in 1976, and what was successful by its early standards of operation (45 or so family-run bookstores across 7 states is a major achievement) isn't as relevant to today's book buyers, who have grown to expect bookstores to bring them what Book World by and large didn't—that home-away-from-home feeling, with cozy places to sit, a calendar of inspiring events, cafes, a feeling of discovery, and the palpable sense that the store is rooted in the local community. When this magical combination is achieved, bookstores thrive.
“Chains are difficult to maintain because everything happens from the top down," said Mark Dupont, Book World's senior vice president. "You can’t cultivate the local community and clientele the same way you can with a single store who has a committed owner and is passionate about their business.”
What's most telling is that Dupont himself is toying with the idea of opening an independent bookstore of his own. "There’s so many great books being published, and people still want to go an buy them in a bookstore.”
The following Book World locations are currently for sale to interested independent buyers.
As we reported here, Book World is closing and their locations and fixtures are up for sale. Here's a more detailed post about the fixtures that are available.
Yellen Partners is leading the liquidation, and interested parties can contact them directly: Mark McMahan, 765-621-1762, firstname.lastname@example.org
Custom made magazine and book shelving
6', 8' and 10' all wood
Perfect for magazines and many types of books
Single-sided and many include lighting
These units are 70.5 inches tall and are perfect for fitting against any wall in your store
Custom made, double-sided wood book shelves
4 feet wide with 4 adjustable shelves
Perfect for displaying books as well as many other products