APRIL 2016 IN
RICK ASTER’S WORLD
One of the last major bookstores in Chester County, Pennsylvania is preparing to close. If the fortunes of the other bookstores in the county do not improve, Chester County could shortly find itself without a bookstore. This has happened in many smaller counties already, but Chester County has a population of more than half a million in a fast-growing suburban area. It seems strange to imagine a county like this with no place to go to buy books.
It is not that book sales have shifted online either. If you search you can find statistics that seem to point in that direction, but to get there you have to include ebooks sold for low prices, mostly under $4. These low-cost ebooks are not the same products that readers were previously buying for $49 in the local bookstore. Excluding ebooks and adjusting for inflation, online book sales have only held roughly steady over the last ten years. Ebook sales remain smaller than sales of printed books. The only conclusion you can draw is that the lost book sales are essentially just disappearing. With anecdotes of books purchased online by shoppers who originally found the book in a local bookstore, the closing of local bookstores will tend to decrease online book sales. Online booksellers have responded to the long-term decline in books by reducing the number of book titles they offer for sale. Ebook sales are an important corner of book publishing but can’t possibly make up the missing book sales with the current generation of table hardware and software.
There is an obvious problem in the book business: most of the books people want to read are no longer sold by the online booksellers, and at the same time, most of the bookstores are closing. How are readers to buy books? Some of this gap can be filled by readers buying books directly from publishers or authors, but I believe there is still a need for the large local bookstore. Even if we cannot have nearly as many bookstores as there were 20 years ago, we’ll need to have a go-to place for books. If the last bookstore in the county closes, someone, I am sure, will see the opportunity and open a new one.
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