Do We Need a Bookstore Day?

My post about the fate of physical bookstores in an ebook world gets much love from Google. It’s not just writers who are concerned about our beloved bookstores, it seems.

On the radio this week, I’ve heard frequent mention of Record Store Day. It’s tomorrow, Saturday, April 17. Record stores? Ahhh, yeah, I remember those. Apparently this is the third annual Record Store Day, which is a grassroots effort between independent record stores to promote music in vinyl and disc form. From their site:

This is the one day that all of the independently owned record stores come together with artists to celebrate the art of music. Special vinyl and CD releases and various promotional products are made exclusively for the day and hundreds of artists in the United States and in various countries across the globe make special appearances and performances.

Those in the US can find a participating record store on the Record Store Day site, along with more information about the origins of the program. Will bookstores one day need a Bookstore Day? Do they need it already? Record Store Day highlights one of the strategies independent bookstores can employ. They can’t compete on price, online will always have something cheaper. They can’t compete on convenience, downloading is the be-all and end-all of instant gratification. But they can create a community in the online world and inject this into the physical world to pull customers into their stores.

Powell’s is a great example of an independent bookstore that has not only survived disruptive change, but thrived as chain bookstores fail in their local Portland market. Megan Zabel wrote a fantastic article on this strategy for Publisher’s Weekly last October. Seth Godin also offers great insight in another Publishers Weekly article from the same month.

If I ran a local bookstore, I would pick a dozen or so categories that have natural affinity groups in my town and assign staff members to blog about them and create an e-mail list of people eager to hear from the store. The store then becomes the center of an idea universe, the connector, the initiator, the place to be. Invite book clubs to hold gatherings in your store and organize special events. Celebrate Julia Child by challenging local cooks to meet up and exchange recipes in your store.

Bookstores will indeed survive, just as record stores do. They just need to change how they think about their business, a practice where cookie-cutter corporate tactics will come up lacking. Independents can indeed thrive. The list of participating record stores for Record Store Day in the Seattle area alone is impressive.


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