Is your local independent bookstore coping with the digital age?by Stephanie Furlan
Two independent bookstores located on Danforth Avenue, Re: Reading and Circus Books & Music, reveal the different methods they use to co-exist in a society that lives off of high-speed internet and getting anything it wants in an instant.
Employee Andrew Gray of Circus Books & Music believes independent bookstores have nothing to fear. Gray explains, “Ultimately, books will still be around. I don’t think there will be a great shift of change. I think the eBook will allow for greater literacy, but people will still want to feel the texture of a book, and prices from a used bookstore compared to an eBook aren’t really different.”
While some stores try to keep up with the latest digital trends to promote themselves, Gray says, “We thought about going more digital, but we are more traditional and seem to do better through word of mouth. It’s the people from the neighbourhood that help us stay in business.” Circus Books & Music hasn’t felt pressured to go digital; they still see a demand for physical books. They cater to readers who still love the feel of a book, to movie and television watchers who want to re-watch their favourite shows and movies, and to music fans who still want to listen to the singers and bands they adore on records and vinyl.
Re: Reading has a different approach. Owner Christopher Sheedy likes his store to have an online presence. Apart from his store’s website, he uses Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, and even added links to blogs from avid readers who review and share the latest books they are reading. Since his previous job was in communications, Sheedy’s automatic response when he opened his store was to get a website. “So many people use it to find things,” Sheedy elaborates, “I think the imagery that is on my site and the layout of the site reflects my store — that it’s not haphazard. Part of the reason I use digital communications is because it’s free. If I tweet something in the morning, it will reach 20, 000 people by the end of the day.”
Sheedy’s character online is much like the one he has in person. He is very friendly, likes a good conversation, and makes jokes to add some humour to any form of discourse. He is also quick to answer any questions someone may have. “It’s hard to get a recommendation [at a bookstore]. The last time I was in Chapters I asked someone where the new Stephen King was, and they went to the computer. And I said, ‘Well, I could have done that. You don’t even know where your fantasy section is?’”
Being knowledgeable is a big factor at Re: Reading. Sheedy wants all his employees to be well-read, but most of all, he wants them to know where any book is so they can easily find it when a customer makes a request. They are able to make better suggestions than a website can too.
Whether a bookstore is more traditional or more digital, community support is essential for local independent businesses to thrive.
Do you have a favourite local bookstore? Let us know in the comments below.