The State of the Bookstore

By tom on August 05, 2011 | Add a Comment

Hi Everybody,
I wanted to share with you an email complaint I received, and my response to it, because I think it encapsulates pretty well many of the frustrations plaguing the bookselling world right now, and the pain and turmoil that comes from an entire industry being turned upside down.  Add to that a recession that wont seem to end and things might seem bleak.  My customers aren't happy, the publishers aren't happy, and neither am I.  But I do believe that things are getting better.  RiverRun is slowly getting over this perfect storm of bad economy, bad weather, bad management, and changing industry.  It's your support that keeps us going, and each day the store is recovering a little more thanks to you.  Please keep coming back, we really appreciate your loyalty.
Here's the email we got:
Hi, I live out of state but have a vacation house up here that I visit several times a year.  In the past, I have enjoyed browsing your bookstore and have always purchased quite a bit, especially as I NEVER buy online or read electronically.  However, when I went into the store today, I was shocked to discover that there were virtually NO new books to browse through.  I don't understand the decision, it seems, to eliminate new books, and now I have no reason to shop there.  I saw and bought nothing today.  Do you think this will change in the future?  I am sad not to be able to support your store any further and hope these changes do not predict an imminent closure.
And here's my response:
Hi C_____,

Thanks for reaching out to us; we've received similar feedback from many customers.  While we appreciate that you never buy online or read electronically, approximately 15% of the public now own e-readers, and many, many people buy their books online.  Amazon, because it uses books as a loss leader, generally sells its bestselling new books for cheaper than I can buy them from the publisher.

When you combine this with the economic recession, we have seen a drastic reduction in sales of new books.  When you consider that most bookstores have profits of less than 2% of sales (including the big chains Barnes & Noble and Borders), you can see that it doesn't take much of a downturn to put a bookseller in trouble-- especially a bookseller like RiverRun which carries a very high rent due to our location in downtown Portsmouth.

Right now we carry approximately 60% new books and 40% used books, and I have to tell you, without the used book sales we would be out of business.
It's that simple.  The local community has been very supportive, and every day we receive very high quality used books from them to fill our shelves.  

It hurts me to stand in the middle of the store and know that I don't have the books in that I'd like to have, but sometimes we just don't have the money to stock the store the way we used to.  RiverRun is not the pet project of a wealthy retiree; it is a business that must pay its bills with the money that comes in the front door.  For now we are working hard to make do.

BUT!!!  All is not doom and gloom.  So far in 2011 we have seen an up-tick in sales and traffic from the previous two years.  While I don't think the recession is over by any stretch, things do seem to be slowly improving.

We host more than 150 author events a year, and those events serve as a constant reminder to our local customers that they like having RiverRun here.  They know that they can order books that we don't have in, and they know that we are trying hard to keep books (real, paper books!) and bookselling alive in our culture.

I am sorry that we are no longer an appealing place for you to shop, but I hope that you will support your local independent bookseller where you live.
It's important.  Borders is gone.  Barnes and Noble could be next.  Do we really want Amazon to be the only place in America to buy books?

I intend to stay in business until there is nobody who wants to buy paper books anymore.  That has required many, many changes in the last three years, and will probably involve many more, but I'm not going away.

Thank you again for taking the time to send us your thoughts,

Tom Holbrook,
RiverRun Bookstore
Thanks for reading... 


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About RiverRun

  • We are your friendly neighborhood bookstore, located in downtown Portsmouth, NH.  Small but potent, we offer a fine selection of new books with an emphasis on fiction, history, poetry and mystery.  We also have a great little kids section, and hold over 100 events a year.

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