Publishing industry leaders made a strong declaration about the centrality of bricks-and-mortar retail to the publishing industry during a Thursday session. While acknowledging the enormous market share that Amazon claims, panelists pointed to market data showing strong retail and print preferences among Millennials and Generation Z, and proclaimed physical retailers the dominant force in the industry for discoverability.

Readerlink president and CEO Dennis Abboud said there is a strong ecosystem between the general retailers his company services and stores including Barnes & Noble and independent booksellers. “We service 718 retail chains that have 80,000 storefronts and see 500 million readers each month. When they find a book they like and want to go into the backlist, they go into their local bookstores,” said Abboud. He backed his claim with data showing that even when millennial buyers buy products online, 40% opt for in-store pickup.

While the assessment may seem unexpected, Sourcebooks publisher and CEO Dominique Raccah was definitive in her view. Ten years ago, her expectation, “was that YA was going to flip and that the whole category was going to be 70-80% e-books because these kids are all on their devices all the time.” Instead, she said, “YA is 25% e-books, max.”

Moderator and NPR correspondent Lynn Neary credited the American Booksellers Association for its early role as a proponent of localism.

“It’s still tough out there,” said ABA CEO Oren Teicher. “Retail is under lots of challenges in lots of different ways,” but he said that indie bookstores are well positioned to give readers something that internet competition cannot. “They can sell an experience, they can sell a connection to their community, they can sell a knowledge and passion about books that goes beyond reading itself.”

Tim Mantel, Barnes and Noble’s chief merchandising officer, said the company is investing in events that create an experience for readers. A recent nationwide Kids Book Hangout initiative drew 13,000 young readers to B&N locations. Mantel called it “a great outpouring of kids who like to read wanting to be around kids who like to read.” He joked that the stores didn’t sell more books but sold more coffee, telling audience members that sustained investment in programs like the hangout are worth continuing. After four hangouts, the chain is seeing an increase in book sales.

All of the panelists agreed that social media and data are helping drive readers to bookstores. Madeline McIntosh, CEO of Penguin Random House U.S., said that the company is keenly aware that readers want “authentic engagement” and is investing in creating non-author events that bring readers together in bookstores. “The bookstore feels like a really good, safe place to do that,” said McIntosh. She added that more collaborative relationships between publishers and physical retailers has increased the importance of sales reps, who were also seen to be in the cross-hairs of a changing industry only a handful of years ago.

Raccah summed up the views of the panel in an exclamation to the audience. “Guys, it’s not what we expected, and it’s great.”