Philadelphia is home to some of the nation’s most innovative independent bookshops, and there are signs that independent bookselling is finally starting to recover after years of decline.
The Independent Booksellers Association of Pennsylvania (IBPA), the trade group representing independent book shops, announced the results of its survey of independent bookstore locations in the region this week, with the results showing that, despite continued declines, the independent book market is showing strong growth and that a growing number of independent business owners are seeking to leverage their business savvy to open their doors to customers.
The IBPA said that in the first quarter of 2018, 39.2 percent of all independent book stores reported sales growth, up from 36.6 percent in the fourth quarter of 2017.
That compares with 39.3 percent in 2017 and 37.9 percent in 2016.IBPA president and CEO Matt Smith said that the overall independent bookseller market is healthy, with growth expected for the rest of 2018.
“While there is a lot of growth in our overall business, the growth in sales is driven by small independent book businesses that are growing their margins and are providing quality books for our customers,” Smith said in a statement.
“We have seen an increase in sales and profits for many small independent businesses, and the IBPA is pleased to see that they are finding success and success for their customers.
Our hope is that more small independent business will open up shop and become part of the fabric of the local economy.”
A study by the University of Delaware released in November revealed that while sales for the top 100 independent book retailers in the United States fell 2.3% from a year earlier, the percentage of their business that was self-supporting declined by 8.1 percentage points.
The study said that while some of these small independent retailers are benefiting from the economic uncertainty and high cost of living in the U.S., others are experiencing significant challenges, such as lack of access to the capital needed to expand.
For instance, in 2018, only 17.6% of independent store locations had at least one employee working remotely, according to the study.
That was down from 25.1% in 2017.
“The study shows that the economy is resilient, but small businesses are facing a growing economic uncertainty that impacts many small businesses,” said Joe Zawinul, IBPA president.
“For many small business owners, access to capital is limited and they have to pay more for equipment and supplies, while still having to pay rent.
This creates a lot more financial pressure on small businesses and can ultimately impact their ability to compete in a changing economy.”
The IBAPP said that there were 8,816 independent book sales in Philadelphia in 2018.
It is not clear how many of those sales are coming from independent book sellers, as many independent bookkeepers are still looking for the right business model to thrive.
“For many of our smaller businesses, the transition to the new digital economy is challenging,” said Sarah Ritter, vice president of operations for the Independent Bookseller’s Association of Greater Philadelphia.
“The pace of growth is faster and there is no shortage of books for people to read and purchase.
It’s important that these small business operators are making the transition smoothly and quickly, and that their books are available to their customers.”