This blog was featured on 08/30/2016
In Praise of Indies: They're Baaaaack!
Written by
Kamy Wicoff
February 2015
Written by
Kamy Wicoff
February 2015

I'm still swooning. On February 10th, I was one of eighty-some-odd authors who had the great good fortune to appear at the American Booksellers Association's Annual Winter Institute. That evening, I tucked into the table that had been prepared for me and, seated next to a stack of my galleys, watched as the doors to the massive hotel ballroom opened and the coolest people in the world came pouring in: independent booksellers. 

If you love books, could you love anyone more? If you are a writer, could you need anyone more?

These are not the indifferent, I-might-as-well-be-selling-toaster-ovens employees of Barnes & Noble (I know there are a few gems, but there are very few), who respond to your inquiry about the new translation of Anna Karenina with the same blank look and tap of their keyboards (having no clue what it is, it is necessary for them to look it up) that they employ in answering your question about the location of the ladies' bathroom. Instead, these are the men and women who know more about books than you do, and who, upon hearing what you like, can lead you to what you have never heard of but suddenly discover you can't live without. My table was not the most trafficked--I'm a virtual unknown, unlike writers like TC Boyle and Kelly Link, who had long lines at their tables--but, with the openness and curiosity typical of their profession, plenty of independent booksellers stopped by to hear my pitch and pick up a book anyway. I loved that every one of them was lugging an enormous bag, or dragging a hand truck, to aid them in transporting their beautiful addictions. Clearly, these were my people. I was once lucky enough to attend the National Book Awards dinner with a friend, and on each table, as a centerpiece, were all the nominated books. At the end of the evening, as we were leaving the room, I saw that most of the books still sat there untouched. Wha? I stuffed my bag and loaded up my arms with as many as I could carry. Leave no good book behind--that's my motto. And from the throngs of indie book buyers throwing caution, and back pain, to the wind, at this year's Winter Institute, it was clear that this is the motto of every indie bookseller, too.

Best of all? The mood in the room was buoyant. Why? Since 2012, every trend shows that indies are back

In the nineties and into the aughts, word on the street was that big chain bookstores like Barnes & Noble and Borders, as well as superstores like Walmart and Target, would destroy the independent bookstore. (Remember You've Got Mail?) This was not a theory: in the 1990s, there were around 4,000 independent bookstores in the US; by 2009, the number had plummeted to 1,651. But things have changed. Borders is gone. Barnes & Noble, forced to compete with Amazon not only in the scale of its business but in the nature of it, introduced the Nook at a cost in the billions that saddled the company with heavy losses; it's still struggling to recover from it. And since 2009, the number of independent bookstores in the US has grown to 2,094. Many attribute this resurgence to a growing "buy local" movement spearheaded by consumers turned off by the faceless and solitary transactions of online shopping. The local independent bookstore, perhaps more than any other store in a town, provides character and community that consumers miss, and crave. I know I don't feel I truly know a place until I have perused the shelves of its local indie bookstore, and I was starstruck by more than a few of the booksellers who stopped by my table. Prairie Lights! Tattered Cover! Community Bookstore! Brilliant Books, my favorite Traverse City spot! The Twig, the indie mainstay of San Antonio, Texas, my hometown! Wow.

I have loved them, loved them all--and of course I hope they will love me and my book, too. But more than anything I am glad they are there, and that they are thriving. Hear, hear for the independent bookstore! If you feel me, share this. And tell me what your favorite indie is, too. 

Let's be friends

The Women Behind She Writes

519 articles
12 articles

Featured Members (7)

123 articles
392 articles
54 articles
60 articles

Featured Groups (7)

Trending Articles

  • Kamy Wicoff Brainstorming

    I do love the indies and hope this trend continues. It is so nice, and so important, to have thoughtful, smart and passionate READERS as the ones promoting and sharing the books they love, and getting paid to do it. I will check out all the bookstores on this list!

  • J. Dylan Yates

    Great post, Kamy! So inspiring. Yes. The community is finally rallying back to support Indie bookstores. There's also been a major epiphany in the writing community to present the Indie bookstores as the #1 go to spot for purchase.  Recently I learned that the books I sign at B&N readings that aren't eventually sold are counted as "hurts" rather than resold. Why not choose a select few Indie stores to exclusively offer your signed books? Have your book launches at a local Indie! Do readings exclusively at Indie bookstores when you have opportunity to choose one rather than a big box outlet. One of my SWP sister's, Tory McCagg (Bittersweet Manor) just finished a cross-country Indie Whistlestop Tour to help raise Indie bookstore awareness while promoting her book. Genius!  I'm sure there are many more creative ways to raise support. I'd be happy to hear those ideas and share them in future posts.

  • Nicky Wheeler-Nicholson

    Thanks for this post Kamy. Very encouraging. If any of you are in the Gulf Shores area be sure and visit The Page and Palette in Fairhope, AL. It's been around since the 1940's and is a treasure trove of great southern writers. They often have NYX best-selling authors in the store giving talks and signing books as well as authors they simply like. Good coffee next door, too!

  • Charlene Diane Jones

    Love the surge of energy and love in this post and responses by Cate, Judy and Shary. Where I live the closest indie book store is Blue Heron Books in Uxbridge, twice named Indie Book Store of the Year in Canada! Shelley MacBeth 

    (yes, her real name dontcha know) creates a celebratory sense of language, books, and has hosted about every famous Canadian author as well as many from the US in her store. Recently Phillipa Gregory renowned Historic Fiction writer came as did Norman Doidge the people's go to neuroscientist for his latest book "The Brain's Way of Healing." Fabulous! Somehow hearing about the return of Indie Book Stores via your numbers Kamy gives me hope about so many things that may be totally unrelated: ecology, education, and most especially the Arts. Thanks for a fine post! 

  • Judy Reeves

    Thanks for your post, not only in favor of Indie bookstores, but singing their praises. Me, too. Every road trip I take, every new city I visit I go in search of independent bookstores where I spend hours browsing and can't remember a time I've ever left one without at least one book in hand and usually some other little gem of a gift for myself or someone else. I live in San Diego where we have a few very good Indies. My favorite and go-to-everytime place and where I order books if they're not in stock: The Grove in the South Park neighborhood. Also love Warwick's in La Jolla, a mainstay for many years, and Mysterious Galaxy. All three of these independent bookstores support writers, which is so important. Oh, and my fav used bookstore: Bluestocking Books.

  • Shary

    What an extraordinary post, Kamy! Your LOVE, LOVE, LOVE for this business and the indies is incredibly inspiring. So happy you were able to experience such an upbeat event and to feel the love right back. And, thank you for bringing us all up to date on the #s....I had NO idea indies have had a surge. Such GREAT news. There IS hope.