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by Dave Watkins
May 29, 2018
Is the Local Yarn Store Coming Back?...The State of Hometown Retail
Where do you buy your yarn and other knitting supplies? The price and selection that large retailers like Hobby Lobby, Joanne Fabric and even Wal-Mart make a strong case for shopping with them. If you like shopping online, Amazon is an option as well. However, small, independent outlets have something to offer that the large retailers simply cannot match, both online and in traditional brick and mortar. To illustrate this point, we will examine another type of retailer that seems out of place in our world, the independent bookstore.
Conventional wisdom predicts that the independent bookstore is a relic from a simpler time. After all, how can the state of hometown retail stores be anything but troubled in the face of competition from industry giants like Amazon and Wal-Mart? Even the large chains like Barnes & Nobles and Borders are struggling and failing; can an independent store really hope to compete? Surprisingly, the news for small booksellers is not all bad.
What About Amazon?
Let's start by mentioning the elephant in the room. Amazon is the biggest bookseller in the United States, by far. This giant outsells Barnes & Noble, their closest competitor by a three to one margin[i]. Electronic and audiobooks make up a large portion of Amazon’s sales. Many experts have predicted that electronic media would take the place of physical books, but this just has not been the case. From 2007 when the first Kindle was introduced through 2015, sales grew steadily. Then sales of electronic books actually fell by nearly 20% in 2016[ii].
Even with the decreasing sales of electronic books, Amazon is the dominant player in the market. With this fact in mind, perhaps it is surprising to find that the number of independent bookstores in the United States actually grew by nearly 35% between 2009 and 2015[iii].
Books Are in Demand
Over the last ten years or so, the sales of books have grown briskly. This trend has been a major driver of Amazon's growth numbers. However, the growth in book sales leaves room in the market for plenty of outlets. The independent bookstores that continue to thrive have found ways to offer what Amazon cannot.
Selling Books with a Personal Touch
While it is very easy to buy both electronic and physical books from Amazon, the experience of buying books online leaves many consumers feeling like there is something missing from the experience. A bookstore is a place where people can gather. A bookstore is a natural place for any literature related event, such as book signings and poetry readings. Amazon itself recognizes this fact and has opened 15 physical bookstores in cities across the country.
Bringing It Back Home
Based on the market for books and the strength of independent bookstores, the state of hometown retail in the United States is actually quite strong. Is this an accurate indicator of other industries in our country? We like to think so. Next time you are looking for knitting supplies, why not skip the big box retailers and visit the knowledgeable people at your local yarn shop. You will be glad you did.
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