If you’ve found your way to this page, there’s a good chance that you already believe in the indie bookstore cause, but if you’re new to the party—welcome! And thank you for spending some time in our corner of the internet. We hope we can help you learn something new about the book world we love so much and how readers like you can help keep it alive and well.
Independent or “indie” bookstores are brick and mortar bookstores independently owned by people invested in the local community. Beyond being just a place to buy books, indie bookstores often function as a place in the community where people can gather to discuss and share ideas, learn and grow as people, and connect with others. They reflect the community they’re in, offering glimpses into the local interest, reading habits, and culture. Additionally, indie bookstores are where the illusive literary industry puts its feet to the ground. Authors can meet their readers, booksellers can work with publishers and distributors, new writers can learn and make connections. Indie bookstores are the place where things happen: for everyone from the bestselling author to the very new reader.
The main difference and short answer is people. Independently owned bookstores are owned by people you’ll meet at the store, people who read, people who want others to love reading. Indie bookstores value all the people involved in the journey of a book, from start to finish, making the entire industry a healthier, more fruitful place. Big businesses simply do not have the same priorities in mind.
That being said, we know we can’t hold this conversation without talking about Amazon. There’s no way we can’t, and we’re all about being a safe space for these kinds of hard, touchy conversations. We don’t want to shame anyone for using Amazon, simply raise awareness and explain the difference in how they go about selling books. Bookstores should always be a place where people can gather information, and then make their own decisions.
The reality is that Amazon offers a greater selection of books at faster paces and lower prices than independent bookstores are able to. This is widely due to the size of the company, the access to warehouses all over the world, and the ability to cut costs and corners. Physical bookstores simply can’t get books from anywhere in the world that fast or that cheaply. When you order a book, it has to go from the distributing warehouse to the bookstore, and then to you. If it’s out of stock, it has to go through the printing process at the publishers, then to the warehouse, then the bookstore, then you. When you just look at that book-getting process, we get it. But here’s where the difference really shows: Amazon’s recommendations are based on reviews and online sales and algorithms. Indie bookstore recommendations are based on the booksellers in your community who love to read, anything and everything, and will get to know you and your family and your friends, and help you find books that you never thought you’d love but do.
Amazon tried to rival this experience with physical stores, opening several around the same time that M. Judson opened her doors. But 7 years later, we are growing, they are closing, and here’s why: Amazon’s stores were reviewed as disjointed and off-putting, because they weren’t created by a human. The top ranking books, whatever they were, lined the shelves in the order the algorithms placed them. Nothing was personal, nothing was arranged according to how humans actually look at bookshelves. People walked in, and it didn’t feel like a bookstore.
Bookstores have always been and should always be more than just a collection of the top ranking books at any given time. They are living, breathing, growing, and evolving parts of both a community and industry. The machine of big businesses like Amazon just can’t replicate the humanity that indie bookstores embody.
Because indie bookstores focus on people, they make a huge difference in the lives of all involved in the journey of a book. The author, editor, publisher, distributor, and bookseller all work for years to get books into the hands of readers. With the support of indie bookstores, authors are surrounded by a community of people who are invested in their work; editors, publishers, and distributors are compensated fairly; booksellers are able to better serve the readers in their community; and finally, readers like you get personalized, human-touched experiences and recommendations. Books, after all, are about life. Indie bookstores keep that human experience and connection part of the business.
At M. Judson alone, we host dozens of authors every year, giving them a chance to meet the booksellers who are selling the book they worked so hard on, as well as the readers they wrote for in the first place. At the same time, baby writers hoping to be published someday can come and make connections, meet other writers, meet readers, and learn about the industry they want to enter. Oftentimes, it is these types of connections made in person at indie bookstores that help writers climb the bestsellers lists, help even newer writers find the help they need to get started, and help readers continue to discover books they can’t put down. When the people and the books come first, everyone wins.
Like we’ve said, independent bookstores value people more than the profit margin, but that doesn’t mean the profit margin doesn’t matter. In order to stay open, we have to be able to pay all the people involved fairly; it’s just good business. But since we won’t compromise on quality to do that, every dollar matters. Each step you make to support indie bookstores over big business sellers ensures that more great books continue to be made by really great and passionate people, and put into the hands of readers like you. You’re the ones who keep us open. You’re the ones who keep us going. You’re the reason we’re here. And that’s why, when you drop a stack of twelve books at the register and joke about how you shouldn’t be spending that much money on books, we look you in the eye and tell you that it’s an investment. Because when you shop at your local indie bookstore, you’re investing not just in a great book, but in that author, their team, the literary industry, and your community. You’re keeping the whole thing going. Thank you.