Despite fears, only 80 independent bookstores will have closed in 2020 and 41 in 2021. At the same time, some 300 stores have opened in recent years and more than 200 more are coming in the next one to two years. ” It’s pretty amazing when you think about how desperate these stores are in 2020. says the executive director of the American Booksellers Association, Allison Hill.
” We saw a comeback like we’ve never seen before she continues. Emphasizing a more diversified orientation, she adds: The rise of BIPOC stores [gérés par ou orientés vers les personnes issues de la diversité] is a big change for us. »
The ABA has long been predominantly white. Board Chairman Jamie Fiocco acknowledged in June 2020 — after the murder of George Floyd — that the association had not done enough to “remove barriers to membership and service for Black, Indigenous and people of color. Hill cited many recent initiatives: the expansion of the diversity committee, the diversification of the board, increased awareness and — for a time — the removal of membership fees.
The ABA now has 2,023 member stores in its ranks: a dazzling increase, compared to 1,689 at the beginning of July 2020. Part of this growth can be explained by the re-registration of former members who passed their turn during the pandemic, but it signals a strong and regular increase in the opening of new establishments, a trend which should continue.
It’s the highest ABA membership total in years, even though the association in 2020 tightened its rules and only allowed stores that ” mainly sell books (representing more than 50% of the inventory), as opposed to other stores offering notably books. The ABA also does not list sellers whose memberships are inactive.
In the Shadow of Amazon
The establishments have also seen a jump in their turnover: in a survey of booksellers released earlier this year, the ABA found that around 80% of respondents said they saw more sales in 2021 than in 2020. Nearly 70% of them saw higher sales compared to 2019, Allison Hill finds for the New York Times.
Overwhelming competition from online giants like Amazon would discourage the opening of physical points of sale, but the growth of brick-and-mortar bookstores remains notable. However, landlords are facing new uncertainties, known from the world of the book industry: shortage of labour, difficulties in the supply chain, rising rents and interest rates, but also the cost of raw materials, etc
The pandemic will have been a starting point for bringing communities together around their local bookstores in times of crisis. Although the number of sales initially fell during periods when establishments were closed, the latter quickly intensified their online sales operations, finding at the same time new ways to retain their customers: online ordering and in-store pick-up, home delivery, pop-up stores or bookmobiles.
READ: The vitality of bookstores and the enthusiasm of “neo-booksellers”
It also turned out that readers were in demand for printed books during the pandemic, and the surge in sales continued in 2021. Publishers sold nearly 827 million printed books, which represents an increase of 10% from 2020, according to NPD Book Scan.
The new generation of booksellers would result, more broadly, from the questions induced by the pandemic and its multiple confinements. As people reevaluate their lives and change professions, retail spaces are also becoming more affordable. Government support for small businesses has helped many bookstores resist closure, while stimulus grants have allowed some to quit their jobs to set up new businesses.
Photo credits: Jessica Hibbard (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)