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Books Are Cool Again

Once upon a time people bought books in bookstores. I should know. My family owned a Christian bookstore chain. It was an idyllic, almost magical time when independent stores like ours and large bookstore chains like B. Dalton Bookseller, Walden, Borders, and Family Christian Stores—plus thousands of independent bookstores—dotted the landscape. Almost every town of any size had at least one. 

Today all those bookstore chains are gone, and the number of independent stores, both general and Christian, has shrunk dramatically. I could list many reasons, but there are just two that matter: the rise of Amazon and the appearance of e-books. Physical bookstores, even those owned by big corporations, just can’t compete with the selection, prices, and convenience of Amazon. And what can possibly match the instant delivery of a book to a device you’re holding in your hand?

It isn’t just bookstores that were threatened by these disruptions. Books themselves—at least the print version of books—were targeted for extinction. At least that’s what the digital enthusiasts and even a few so-called book experts were saying.

Then the unexpected happened. E-books didn’t take over print. Not even close. After peaking at roughly 30 percent of total books sales, e-books have been in decline for the past two years. Between 2015 and 2016, e-book purchases were down by 16 percent, while print books have rebounded nicely.

As for bookstores, they may have been on life support, but they didn’t die. In fact, the old brick and mortar shops seem to be staging a comeback. According to the American Booksellers Association, nearly 700 new independent bookstores have opened in the last seven years. These aren’t cookie-cutter chain stores. They are unique, creative, often delightful havens for bibliophiles who like the idea of “a cozy local bookshop providing an escape from the daily grind.”

Even younger readers, pegged as digital-only readers, see the value of bookstores and print books. “It gets a big overwhelming with all the tech and stimuli in the city,” says a 25-year-old living in Manhattan. “There is something that puts me at ease, when I’m on a train with a paperback.”

A recent survey by Ingram Content Group found that reading is still a “vitally important part of millennials’ media consumption.” And rather than preferring ebooks as you might expect, they are twice as likely to read a print book. “Moreover,” says the survey, “young people are buying their print books from physical bookstores more than online retailers.”

Specifically, young adult book buyers are more likely to shop at local, independent bookstores, reflecting their sense of community and individuality. In fact, books have become a “badge of cool” for many. Check out Underground New York Public Library, “a visual library featuring the Reading-Riders of the NYC subways. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but books are cool again. And in growing numbers, so are independent bookstores.

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Stan's entire life has been wrapped in content: selling, writing and publishing books and resources that help ordinary people capture a glimpse of extraordinary things.