Indie bookstores report strong sales for 2012

Sales at independent bookstores rose almost 8 percent during the year, according to data from about 500 stores.

Ann Hermes
Customer Irene Fish browses at Left Bank Books in St. Louis, Mo.

In spite of a gloomy economic environment, a dearth of red-hot holiday titles, and plenty of doom-and-gloom news about bookstores, we’ve got some good news to report on the state of the book world in 2012: Last year was a surprisingly strong one for independent bookstores.

Sales at independent bookstores rose almost 8 percent from 2011 to 2012 based on reports from about 500 bookstores, industry newsletter Shelf Awareness reported Friday. The strong numbers suggest indies are performing better than previously thought, despite the pessimistic news about bookselling.

“[T]he very healthy year-end number clearly demonstrates the vitality of independent bookstores,” said American Booksellers Association CEO Oren Teicher in a letter to ABA members. “I know we are surrounded by those articulating a far more pessimistic appraisal of the state of bookselling, but our numbers are what they are. I don’t for one second underestimate the myriad challenges we continue to face.... but the fact is that 2012 was a good year for independent bookstores in the United States.”

Even better, indie bookstores were able to garner healthy online sales despite the dominance of behemoth online rivals like Amazon. Indies enjoyed a 28 percent increase in online sales for bookstores using the indieCommerce platform, according to e-reader newsletter Good E-Reader. And sales of Kobo Readers and e-books, though still in the early stages, are “encouraging,” Teicher said. “We significantly outperformed our earlier efforts in this area, and thousands of new e-book accounts were opened by indie customers,” he said. 

As Monitor blogger Molly Driscoll reported earlier, anecdotal reports suggest indie bookstores, unlike chain retailers like Barnes & Noble, had a strong 2012.

Was it President Obama’s high-profile support of indie bookstores on Small Business Saturday? Is Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day finally catching on? Was it a “vote-with-your-pocketbook” reaction of a book-loving public against the gloom-and-doom news surrounding the publishing industry?

Whatever it is, we’re glad to know indie booksellers are alive and well. Here’s to an even better 2013.

Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.

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