The purpose of this thesis is to examine the current state of the brick-and-mortar bookselling industry, with particular focus on independent bookstores and their strengths and weaknesses, and synthesizing recommendations for these bookstores to reinvent themselves in a rapidly changing market. This examination is highly relevant given recent concerns that, with the rise of e-retailers like Amazon and the closure of bookstore chain Borders, brick-and-mortar bookstores may be superseded by new digital vendors. Independent bookstores are thought to be at a particular disadvantage to these retailers, given their limited size and resources, as well as the lack of capital or consumer base that a larger chain like Barnes and Noble can draw upon to invest in emerging technology. With these more limited financial opportunities, independent bookstores must find different ways to not only keep abreast of the technology that consumers are coming to expect from modern businesses, but attract customers.
To gain insight into the state of the industry and current position of independent bookstores, I will first examine the past fifty years of the brick-and-mortar bookstore, followed by a Porter’s Five Forces analysis of the industry threats and a SWOT analysis to compare the strengths and weaknesses of independent bookstores. Next, the patrons of independent bookstores will be discussed with a focus on the two largest consumer groups of Millennials and Baby Boomers, their characteristics, and the opportunities they provide to bookstores. After this there will be an exploration of the competitors to brick-and-mortar bookstores, focusing on Amazon and then touching on some of the other rivals to bookstores’ consumer base. The next section will be an in-depth analysis of a variety of bookstores across the United States, with attention to their successful practices, goals, concerns, and failures. First, there will be a comparison of industry success and failure through case studies of Borders and Powell’s bookstores. Next, there will be a comparison of five beloved independent bookstores across the country to share their varied competitive advantages that are the secret to their success. Finally, there are primary source interviews with the employees of three major Phoenix bookstores, which provide insight into the goals, current projects, attitudes, and inner strengths of these businesses. Finally, the thesis will conclude with a section offering solutions and suggestions for independent bookstores to pursue based on the primary and secondary research discussed above. These recommendations are focused on five key areas:
• Store Design
Ultimately, the information provided by this research and these interviews indicates that while vital business changes are being pursued by independent and chain bookstores across the United States, the independent bookstore shows no signs of disappearing in favor of online vendors or e-readers.