The plight of the small bookshop

In a world dominated by digital giants, mega bookstores, and online marketplaces, the small bookstore is not a mere purveyor of books, but it is the heartbeat of a community.

Step into a small bookstore, and you’re enveloped by the scent of aging paper, the creaking of wooden floors, and the comforting hush of whispered stories. You’ll, more often than not, find a knowledgeable owner curating selections tailored to the tastes of the local readership. These intimate spaces foster connections, discussions, and a shared love for the written word. However, these literary sanctuaries are facing challenges that threaten their existence. 

Small bookstores face financial constraints, making it challenging to compete. Rising rent, distribution costs, and the need for competitive pricing are hurdles that threaten the very existence of these literary gems. While they strive to provide personalised service and curated selections, competitive pricing becomes a hurdle. The economies of scale that larger retailers enjoy make it difficult for small bookstores to match prices without compromising their unique offerings.

Unbeknownst to the ordinary reader, big bookstores, while offering unparalleled visibility, often take a substantial percentage of the earnings from each book sold, leaving authors with a fraction of the retail price. To reach these prominent bookstores, authors often rely on distributors — a necessary link in the supply chain. However, this intermediary role comes at a cost. Distributors not only facilitate the journey of books from publishers to bookstores but also take a share of the profit. The cumulative effect is a significant reduction in the revenue that eventually reaches the author.

So, the narrative of the struggling small bookstore intimately intertwines with the livelihoods of authors, impacting their profit margins in profound ways. Authors and independent bookshops often share a symbiotic relationship. For many authors, small bookstores are gatekeepers to the literary world. These establishments often champion niche genres, independent presses, and debut works that might struggle to find a place in the vast expanse of major retailers. The unique, lesser-known gems nurtured by small bookstores are often the lifeblood of emerging authors.

To navigate the changing winds, small bookstores are now redefining their roles. Community support and a dedicated customer base are the wind beneath their wings. Book clubs, author events, and partnerships with local businesses are ways in which small bookstores are staying connected and relevant, and fostering a love for literature that extends beyond the pages of a book. 

As lovers of literature, we hold the power to shape the destiny of small bookstores, and that of authors. Our choice to visit these havens, engage in local literary events, and support independent bookshops can tip the scales. In a world that often favours convenience, we must remember the immeasurable value that small bookstores bring to our communities, and help authors to navigate the delicate balance between passion and practicality. 

The narrative of the literary world should not just be about the tales spun within its pages but also the fair compensation of those weaving those tales, and supporting small bookstores, which, in return, benefits our authors.

About the author

Wilman Fikker Publishing House

WFPH is a Muslim woman-owned publishing house run by Khadija Joosab Moti, a sister who is committed to the art of storytelling and who believes in the power of da’wah through fiction. Each story they bring to life is a reflection of those values.

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