Buying and Selling Books in the 21st Century


Photo: Simon Zurkonow (flickr)

How do you fill your bookcase?


The rise of the mega bookstores appeared to be the death knell for independent book sellers. But, since 2009, when the big-box stores started to feel the pain from e-books and Amazon, independents have rebounded.

Although half of the independent book stores in the U.S. were shuttered by 2009, their numbers have increased by 20 percent since then.

Convenience and cost are the main factors behind Amazon’s success, said Deborah Leonard, executive director of the Great Lakes Booksellers Association.

Amazon has used books as a loss leader, that is they sell them below Amazon’s cost to attract business to other Amazon products. But that business equation can’t last forever, Leonard added.

“That is why Amazon can sell these so cheaply, it’s because they lose money on every single book that they sell. That’s not a model that sustainable,” Leonard said. “I think also, maybe now people are starting to think, do we want one entity controlling all of our buying?”

Amazon has tried to lower their costs by forcing book publishers to lower what they charge. New York Times reporter Leslie Kaufman, who covers the book business, said that’s worked for a while but, now, there’s push back.

“Amazon needs to start making more profit, and one of the ways they’re going to do it is to use their incredible influence in the marketplace to wring more out of the publishers,” Kaufman said. “The publishers feel like they (Amazon have) gone too far and so each time they come to their annual contracts, there’s increasingly a battle.”

Independent bookstore owner Tami Furlong said that independent operations like hers survive by being flexible.

“You have to be able to roll with the punches, change your focus according to what he customers are looking for,” said Furlong, owner of Fundamentals Parent Teacher Bookstore in downtown Delaware, Ohio.

“Also, you can’t ever think you’re going to be rich,” said Furlong, who opened her store 26 years ago. “You can’t go into this business just wanting to make money. It has to be your heart. It has to be something you love to do. I think that’s the key.”

Independent books stores have a closer connection with their customers, said Julie Burgess of The Book Loft in German Village.

“When somebody comes into the store, if you come in a couple of times, I want to learn your name, I want to know, what do you like to read? We love to love our customers,” Burgess said.

Which do you prefer? The cost and convenience of on-line shopping or the personal and sometimes pricier independent bookstore?

For more information, listen to the full hour.


  • Tami Furlong, owner of Fundamentals Parent Teacher Bookstore
  • Julie Burgess, book seller at The Book Loft
  • Deborah Leonard, Executive Director of the Great Lakes Booksellers Association
  • Leslie Kaufman, media reporter for The New York Times

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