The Danforth area showcases a unique array of independent bookstores. However, with e-books becoming increasingly popular, how can independent bookstores survive, especially with larger chains such as Chapters and Indigo Books cashing in on the e-reader trend?
As the old saying goes, “They don’t make them like they used to.” In the publishing industry, this saying definitely carries weight. Publishers are making books and magazines digital, in smaller, more portable formats so readers can travel with upwards of 150 books on one e-reader.
But there’s something that digital copies just can’t replace, like the smell of a book, or the feel of the paper. So with portable e-readers slowly replacing paper copies of books and larger bookstore chains expanding throughout the city, how is it that independent bookstores, like the ones on Danforth Avenue, are able to survive?
Independent bookstores operate different from the larger chains. They don’t have the same buying power as the larger chains, which sometimes leave them in a position to make difficult decisions, such as choosing one location over another. Type Books’ Danforth location closed last year.
As Joanne Saul, co-owner of Type Books, explains, “it was more about opportunities with other locations to expand.” Despite its closure, Saul still notices the continuing support from the communities the other two Type Books stores are located in.
Used bookstores also have to compete with e-readers replacing physical copies of books. Ron Duffy of Circus Books and Music is not as concerned about print publishing dying overnight. “People who grew up with books will want books,” he says. There will always be customers who would rather have the physical book over the e-book; just the same way some music lovers would rather have the vinyl records instead of the MP3s. The quality of the sound is different, richer in its physical form. Customers like to walk into a store and browse, flipping through books and getting to hold the products in their hands.
In comparison to the larger chains, Duffy notes that his store mostly deals with trade paperbacks to give his store a contemporary theme, not hardcovers or mass market paperbacks. He picks books and authors that “have a better life span” by focusing on literature and the humanities.
As Andrew Gray -who also works at Circus Books and Music- notes, you won’t find mysteries, thriller, crime, or romance novels on their shelves. Instead, Circus Books and Music looks for whole bodies of an author’s work, not just an author’s latest novel that you would find at the larger chains. To deal with the issue of limited shelf space, Duffy keeps a duplicate library in the back for copies, which allows for more titles to be displayed in the store.
Christopher Sheedy, owner of Re:Reading, another used books bookstore, also notices a constant love of books in his customers. Re:Reading’s busiest times of the year are Christmas and, in the summer, during the Taste of the Danforth festival. What attracts customers to Re:Reading is the appeal at finding rare books at low prices. Sheedy says that customers like to give rare or first editions as gifts for birthdays and holidays. With the back catalogue of mass market paperbacks in his store, there is something for everyone, including CDs and DVDs.
Stores like Re:Reading that sell used books have the advantage of selling books for less. Customers are able to spend the same amount of money on several books that they would spend on one or two books at the larger chains. As for competition, Sheedy believes that the best place to open a bookstore is next to another bookstore. In doing so it offers variety to customers, allowing customers to choose the store that best suits their preferences.
Regardless of how popular e-books become, the independent bookstores in the Danforth area are confident that there will always been a need and a want for hardcovers and paperbacks alike, with customers returning for more of their favourites.