Since 2010, independent bookstores have been coming back. And 2016 is no exception. With BookExpo America set to open in Chicago this week, American Booksellers Association CEO Oren Teicher reported to the AP a 63-store increase in membership from last year.
With the uptick, ABA now has 1,775 ABA members with 2,311 outlets. This year's jump in membership marks the seventh straight year that the ABA has swelled its ranks.
While the 2016 numbers represent a jump in membership, of nearly 4%, the ABA still has a way to go before it recovers from its previous heights. The organization had 2,300 members as recently as 2002, and 3,300 in 1998. For Teicher, though, there are bright spots. He has been particularly encouraged by the number of stores that have recently transitioned to new ownership, like Bennington Bookstore in Bennington, Vt., and Women & Children First in Chicago.
Nonetheless, Teicher has acknowledged--at both Winter Institute and at the Spring Regional Forums--that booksellers continue to face a “challenging environment.” Not only must indie booksellers contend with intense competition from Amazon, they must also deal with minimum wage laws calling for employees to be paid $15/an hour. The latter, Teicher noted, is causing difficulties for many businesses, like independent bookstores, that sell products with fixed prices and low margins. Other stores, particularly in urban locations, are facing real estate hikes that make their locations untenable.
Still, Teicher saw plenty of cause for optimism. In addition to the increase in ABA membership, indie sales from the roughly 580 stores reporting were up 5% year-over-year in the first four months of 2016.