Sue Smith
CBA Board Chairman

I love reading articles about bookselling. I’m particularly sweet on how independent bookstores are making a return. Lately, I ended up in an article titled Why Independent Bookstores Have Thrived in Spite of Amazon by Carmen Nobel, and I can’t get past this disturbing quote: “While pressure from Amazon forced Borders out of business in 2011, indie bookstores staged an unexpected comeback. Between 2009 and 2015, the ABA reported a 35 percent growth in the number of independent booksellers, from 1,651 stores to 2,227.” The fact that this does not mirror our story brings a deep frustration to my heart.

Nobel interviewed Ryan Raffaelli, a field researcher on independent bookselling. He defined the resurgent success around the 3 C’s of independent bookselling: community, curation, and convening. Are we paying attention to what has made these stores successful? Let’s take a look.

COMMUNITY

According to the article, independent booksellers were among the first to champion the “shop local” ideology. One ABA owner states it this way: “What I’m really selling is my bookstore, not ‘this’ book. If we see our products as books, and we compete on price … we lose. If we see our product as service in a community in which books are one piece … well then, we can compete.”

How do we cultivate a store that our customers are compelled to be in because this is their community? Our “Christian product” is a commodity that can be bought anywhere. Our community will not come into our store without sensing a personal community connection to the experience within.

CURATION

The article highlights how independent booksellers focused on curating inventory that allowed them to “provide a more personal and specialized customer experience … [developing] personal relationships with customers by helping them discover up-and-coming authors and unexpected titles.” CBA industry colleague John Desaulnires Jr. responds, “Much to my chagrin, ABA booksellers tend to be more passionate about their social issues than we as a Christian industry are about the Gospel.” Michael Janke adds, “I love the CBA vendors—but younger shoppers want to find special gifts that are not the same things that their parents and grandparents were buying.”

CONVENING

“Independent booksellers also started to promote their stores as intellectual centers for convening customers with likeminded interests—offering lectures, book signings, game nights, children’s story times, young adult reading groups, even birthday parties,” Raffaelli says. Can we see our stores as intellectual centers for the church? The innovation for convening in our stores means work, risk, and change.

Is it worth it? The ABA results say, “It’s priceless.”