business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

The New York Times had a piece over the weekend by novelist Ann Patchett, who also happens to be the co-owner of Parnassus Books, an independent bookstore in Nashville.

The column offered a look at some of the elements that make independent bookstores successful even in a marketplace where there is a major bricks-and-mortar category killer, Barnes & Noble, a dominant e-commerce player, Amazon, and the growing influence of e-readers such as the iPad and Kindle. Those elements can include specialization, which can turn what might be a disadvantage into an advantage:

"I’m a sucker for a little bookstore," Patchett writes. "In the right hands, the limited space can set off an explosion of personality and innovation. It’s like going to a French bistro with five tables and five things on the menu: You discover they’re exactly the right five things. New York City, land of skyrocketing rents and ubiquitous nail salons, has some of the best tiny bookstores in the world, including the Corner Bookstore, 192 Books and my favorite, Three Lives & Company. Sometimes what’s lost in square footage is made up for by a brilliant staff, or maybe it’s just that the people who work in tiny stores really do know exactly where every book is located. And they’ve read them."

It strikes me that this a great and Eye-Opening lesson for every retailer.

Patchett also shares some advice she got before she got into the bookstore business:

"The best advice I got was this: If you want customers, you have to raise them yourself. That means a strong children’s section. If e-books have taken a bite out of the adult market, they’ve done very little damage to children’s books, maybe because even the most tech-savvy parents understand that reading 'Goodnight Moon' off your phone doesn’t create the same occasion for bonding."

Again, an Eye-Opener for every retailer.
KC's View: