Why We Need Independent Bookstores

They have benefits that online booksellers don’t

Janice Harayda

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Page & Palette bookstore in Fairhope, Ala. / Credit: Page & Palette

In small towns like mine, brick-and-mortar bookstores are cultural torch-bearers. They pass the flame of ideas from one person to the next: through talks by authors, recommendations from staff, and conversations that spring up among customers.

Online booksellers have their own benefits, not the least of which is that during pandemic lockdowns, they stay open. But their services complement — rather than substitute for — those of brick-and-mortar bookstores.

Why do the walk-in stores matter? Scott Turow, the novelist and former president of the Authors Guild, America’s leading organization for people who write books, put it this way:

“Marketing studies consistently show that readers are far more adventurous in their choice of books when in a bookstore than when shopping online. In bookstores, readers are open to trying new genres and new authors: it’s by far the best way for new works to be discovered.”

In other words, brick-and-mortar bookstores foster a special kind of serendipity. You can discover life-changing books in many ways: at libraries, by word-of-mouth, in newspaper book sections, and through blogs, podcasts, or programs like Book TV on C-SPAN.

But as those options expand in digital age, Turow’s point remains vital: Most of us will boost our odds of finding books we love if we take advantage of all of our options, including the unique opportunities for discovery offered by brick-and-mortar bookstores.

@janiceharayda is an award-winning journalist who has been the book editor of the Plain Dealer, the book columnist for Glamour, and a vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle. Her articles have appeared in many major media, including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post. She writes about books, writing, and life in the Deep South on Medium and elsewhere.

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Janice Harayda

Critic, novelist, award-winning journalist. Former book editor of the Plain Dealer and book columnist for Glamour. Words in NYT, WSJ, and other major media.