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Writers want to save the independent book store

May 26, 2015

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There’s a good chance that many of the books Americans read this Memorial Day weekend came from an independent bookstore — a better chance, at least, than five years ago.

Minnesota Public Radio reported earlier this month that the number of independent bookstores in the United States has increased 20 percent since 2009, when it hit an all-time low thanks to hard economic times and the prevalence of e-readers.

More than 1,000 bookstores closed between 2000 and 2007, and it looked like the industry would never recover.

The turnaround is thanks, in part, to the authors whose books are on the shelves. There is a growing number of writers setting down their pens and setting up local shops to help cultivate the reading community.

The latest scribe to join the ranks of entrepreneurs is Jeff Kinney, the author and artist behind the series “Diary of a Wimpy Kid.” He has 150 million books in print and three movie adaptions that have made $225 million at the box office, according to an article in The New York Times last week.

He’s also opening a bookstore where he lives in Plainville, Mass., which is south of Boston. Not only will he be working the cash register, but he has plans for events like a cartooning workshop that he hopes will help get more people buying books.

And while he thought it would be a labor of love, he found out from fellow author Ann Patchett, who owns a bookstore in Nashville, that the business is actually profitable. The Times article recalls a conversation between the two last year:

When Mr. Kinney visited Nashville last year for a “Wimpy Kid” event held by Parnassus Books, he grilled Ms. Patchett about her business.

“He looked at me and said, ‘Just between us, how much money did you lose the first year?’ ” Ms. Patchett recalled. “And I said, ‘Jeff, I made money.’ ”

Other prominent writers who run their own stores include Larry McMurtry, Louise Erdrich, Garrison Keillor and Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

Of course, having a best-seller to your name makes business a little easier. But as big corporate stores shut down, the intimacy of small local shops might just make for a sustainable market, no matter who owns the store.

For story ideas, find out where the nearest independent bookstores are in your coverage area. Ask the owners if business has improved over the last few years and if they’re doing anything different than in the past. If there are any writers nearby, ask how their work is getting published and if they’ve tried alternatives like self publishing and e-books.

Story Ideas

Ann Patchett: Owning a bookstore means you always get to tell people what to read.

American Booksellers Association


  • Rian Bosse

    Rian Bosse is a PhD student at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. He earned his undergraduate degree in English from Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Michigan in 2012 and worked for a small daily newspaper, the Daily Journal, in his hometown o...

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