New findings indicate that independent bookstores are closing at a rate of 3 per week. And it’s no wonder. The challenges facing independent bookstores are great: chain bookstores like Borders, Barnes & Noble and Dymocks carry huge selections of books, often marked at discount prices; internet shopping giant Amazon‘s ingenious recommendation system, combined with cheap prices, makes book shopping from home easy; supermarkets and department stores sell books at hugely discounted prices indies can’t compete with; the popularity of e-readers like the Kindle and iPad offer readers a cheap, light, environmentally responsible way to consume books; and last, people just don’t read as much as they used to (blame it on Google) – or at all, if you ask Steve Jobs.
Nevertheless, pundits are hopeful. Tim Godfray, chief executive of The Booksellers Association says, “We are not going to see the end of the bookshop. They can survive by concentrating on service, focusing on their customers and being a community hub.” The Times Online believes that independent bookshops can do this by building a “specialist business” that can persuade book buyers from buying cheaper elsewhere.
A local example of a flourishing indie bookstore? Swanbourne’s Bookcaffè. It won Independent Bookseller of the Year WA in the 2008 and 2009 Australian Book Industry Awards (ABIA) and for good reason: it does much more than sell books.
Bookcaffè hosts evening book club meetings, encouraging healthy – even sometimes rowdy – discussions. In an interview with The Western Australian‘s William Yeoman, Bookcaffè book buyer Geraldine Blake says,
There’s a long tradition of having book clubs meet here. The only requirement is that they buy the books from us. So as well as issuing a monthly newsletter we often sit down with them to discuss a range of books they might find interesting, especially first time or local authors.
Sharing the spotlight with the books is the cafè (it is called Bookcaffè, after all), which fills the bookshop with the lovely aroma of coffee. Blake gushes about the cafe saying, “We have some terrific cooks and everything is made right here on the premises.” On offer are homemade cakes, pastries, sandwiches and salads. Gluten-free and vegetarian options are also available.
Independent bookstores play an important role in society – encouraging social interaction, debate and support for literature. Thank god for independent bookshops like Bookcaffè (or Readings in Melbourne or Gleebooks in Sydney).