I’ve been on the road a lot lately and I’ve had the opportunity to visit a few of the more interesting independent bookstores. Two valuable aspects of the local independent still really jump out at you: A sense of community and an incredible depth of selection. The latter is limited to certain topic areas and local interest segments, of course, but it’s still an attribute that’s not as impressive in the chains.
Although most of the independent stores have their own websites, each one is considerably different, once again highlighting the local feel and focus. But if Amazon, Bookpool and others represent the opportunity to exploit the long tail of publishing, I have to wonder if the independents as a group represent a similar opportunity. What if all these small chains and little mom-and-pop stores got together and formed an alliance, one where all their inventory is searchable via one website? What if when I search for the book I want, I find it at Larry’s Bookshop, but I have to drive past Joe’s Bookshop on my way to work every day and would prefer to pick it up there? Could there be an affiliate program among the independents where they’ll swap inventory to better serve all customers, in this case, Larry’s gets it to Joe’s later that day for pickup?
OK, I know this would require all these thousands of small organizations to work together and agree to common terms. For that reason alone this will probably never happen. But, I think it’s an interesting way for the “little guy” to leverage some of their strengths (e.g., a physical presence, unusual product offerings and even used products, etc.) to combat the ever-growing online giants.