Amazon.com launched in 1995, offering customers seemingly unlimited inventory without the need to step foot in a bookstore; and then Amazon launched the Kindle e-book service in 2007, challenging the very idea of a physical book.
“Not only had the traditional buying channels fundamentally shifted, but the core product—the printed book—had come under threat,” says Ryan Raffaelli, a professor in the Organizational Behavior Unit at Harvard Business School. “All the ingredients were there for the independent sector to see the end of its days.”
Something miraculous started happening in 2009, however. After falling for decades, the number of independent bookstores started to rise, climbing 49 percent in the next decade to nearly 2,500 stores nationwide.
Since 2012, Raffaelli has examined how indie bookstores have survived and thrived in the digital era. The research project is part of a broader set of studies Raffaelli has conducted on mature industries, such as Swiss watchmakers and pencil makers, that have been able to reinvent themselves in the wake of radical technological change. He calls this phenomenon “technology reemergence.”
Over the past eight years, he has visited bookstores in 26 states, conducted hundreds interviews and focus groups with booksellers, authors, and publishers, and scoured 30 years of news articles to understand how bookstores have phoenixed themselves from the ashes. He even attended a course on how to open an independent bookstore.
Direct to Full Text of Professor Ryan Rafelli’s Working Paper: Reinventing Retail: The Novel Resurgence of Independent Bookstores
29 pages; PDF.