Why Independent Bookstores Still Matter

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Photo by Tuur Tisseghem on Pexels.com

Much has changed over the past few decades that has made an impact on the book publishing industry. New technologies have made it possible for new writers to self-publish, creating an influx of new authors and book titles that we didn’t see before. Online retailers have made it easier to shop for books from the comfort of your home or office so you don’t have to step inside a bookstore – ever.

But despite these changes, there’s still a place for independent bookstores. While many shops have shuttered its doors, many others are thriving. How are they doing it? By offering products and services that online retailers and national chains are not able to. By focusing on what they CAN do, rather than what they are not equipped to handle, today’s indie bookstores have managed to remain relevant while winning the hearts, minds and hard-earned dollars of their customers.

Independent bookstores may not have the name recognition of a national chain and they may not even offer coffee and free wi-fi, but they provide a sense of community that is lacking in larger chains and online stores. That’s what makes them still relevant today. That’s what makes them so appealing to bookstore customers.

So I’m giving our friendly neighborhood independent bookstores some loving this week. Here are a few reasons indie bookstores still matter:

* Independent bookstores serve as an anchor in the community. Many independent bookstores are managed by people who live near the community. They are your friends and neighbors. When you support these small shops, you support small businesses. Local bookstores are more involved in their communities that larger chains. They understand the importance of building community and sharing resources among their neighboring business. For example, they might work with the bakery across the street to brink in fresh-baked muffins and cupcakes for a book meeting.

They’re more likely to participate in fundraisers, street fairs and community events. And they serve as a popular meeting place for tour groups, reading clubs and kids’ groups. They may even provide a forum for a local political candidate running for office. With a strong connection to the community, they’re able to create a loyal customer base and build a steady stream of business from repeat customers.

* Indie bookstores provide stronger support for new literary voices. Indie bookstores especially appreciate local authors, and they will do whatever they can to support their book. They do more than just sell the book. They may profile new authors in their newsletter, or give them a forum to talk about their books. Since the indie bookstores aren’t always locked into big name authors and book titles, they can give new authors a more intimate stage to showcase their work.

* Independent bookstores can specialize in a particular genre. To thrive in today’s competitive environment, some indie bookstores are specializing to attract a specific type of reader. For example, Chicago-based Read It & Eat specializes in selling cookbooks and other food writing. The store has a kitchen for cooking demonstrations and hosts author and chef signings. By specializing in culinary interests, the store is able to create a unique shopping experience targeting the large customer base of home cooks in the area.

* Independent bookstores can help improve the local economy. According to IndieBound.org, an online community of local independent bookstores, for every $100 spent at an indie bookstore, approximately $52 is returned to the neighborhood, compared to less than $6 for national chains. The more money that’s put back into the community, the more that will cycle back to the bookstore in the form of repeat business from customers. That keeps a local community thriving.

* Independent bookstores are better for the environment. According to IndieBound.org, when you purchase books from an indie bookstore, there’s no need for boxes and packaging for shipping, and there’s no transportation needed for shipping. That not only saves the customer money for shipping costs, it means the boxes and shipping materials don’t end up in a landfill. That means a smaller carbon footprint for all of us.

In today’s marketplace, independent bookstores play an integral role in our communities and provide a strong support system for writers and readers alike. By providing a more diverse selection of works and more choices, readers can expand their literary knowledge and become acquainted with new book titles, authors and genres. And because they’re managed by your friends and neighbors, they provide more personalized, friendly service.

Celebrate small business and shop at indie bookstores. That’s the best way to show them some love.

To Build Your Portfolio and Good Will, Try Bartering

Fruit baskets

If you’re just starting out on a new business venture, it can be difficult to gain traction in your chosen industry. Just because you hang an “Open for Business” shingle doesn’t guarantee that clients will come flocking to your door. In today’s competitive environment, bartering can help you gain exposure for your services. It’s low-cost, low-risk approach is ideal for business owners and entrepreneurs looking to gain new clients, or for anyone looking to start a side business.

Bartering is the trading of one product or service for another of equal value. Usually, there is no exchange of cash. The exchange can take place between individuals and businesses, or it can take place through a third-party like a barter exchange company. Learn more about barter exchanges by visiting the IRS website and reading this Bloomberg article.

The concept of bartering is not new. Think of trading Halloween candy with your friends when you were a kid, or exchanging your apple from your lunch for a bag of chips from someone else. But the same concept can hold true today. Wash dishes at a small diner in exchange for a free meal, or clean a fitness center in exchange for free classes. For a small startup business or entrepreneur, bartering can help you get your foot in the door.

Here are a few tips for successfully bartering your product or service.

1. Work with someone you trust. Ask family members, friends, anyone you know, for referrals for potential clients for your services. Working with a business owner that someone you know has worked with previously ups the trust factor considerably.

Another option for finding clients is to walk around your neighborhood. Look for newly-opened businesses that may not have the resources to hire employees. The manager of a fast-food joint might be willing to offer a free meal or two in exchange for social media assistance.

2. Talk out all the details in advance. Do a lot of talking. Be clear about what you want to do for them and what you would like in return. Many businesses are open to ideas that will help their own business. If you focus on how you can help them, they will listen.

3. Put the arrangement in writing. It does not have to be a formal, legal document, nor does an attorney have to be involved, but the details should be written down. Even if the details are worked out through emails, you have a paper trail that outlines what both parties have agreed to do. It protects everyone in case any issues arise.

4. Do your homework. Check the IRS website or talk with your accountant to determine if there are any tax ramifications for bartering. There probably isn’t, but you need to cover all the bases.

5. Understand that this is a short-term solution. Bartering is not meant as a catch-all solution to cash flow problems, but it can put you in good stead with business owners and managers who can tout your services in the future. Even better, they can refer you to other businesses who may need your services.

6. Remember to thank your client. Show your gratitude by posting a positive review on Yelp or writing a testimonial for their website. Likewise, don’t be shy about asking for referrals or a testimonial from them to put on your own website. That’s the mark of a true exchange.

Bartering your services in exchange for like-kind services can help both parties improve their businesses. It can help you gain meaningful experience, attract new clients and help build good will. And that can be the best building blocks for a successful, long-term business relationship.