Crowdfunding, the Internet’s trendy new way to fund everything from music videos to medical procedures, has caught the eye of independent booksellers struggling to keep their doors open.
The New York Times recently reported that book dealers in San Francisco and New York City were resorting to asking for donations on popular crowdfunding sites like Indiegogo and Kickstarter. While they raised more than $50,000 with their public appeal for financing, a store in Asheville, N.C., only raised $5,000.
Some of Mississippi’s well-known book dealers just think the practice is a gimmick akin to putting a Band-Aid on a head wound.
“I think its a way to buy some time but I’m not sure that’s going to make your business a good business,” says John Evans with Lemuria Books in Jackson. “If what you’re doing isn’t working without donors why is it going to work with donors?”
Fred Smith of Choctaw Books said the fad reminded him of a time years ago when a struggling bookstore in Memphis sent a letter to its customers basically asking for money so they could stay open and continue to be a part of the neighborhood.
“This is not a permanent fix,” Smith says. “If it got to the point that I had to do that then I probably didn’t want to be in the business anyway. You’re not going to be able to bring in the people that you need to with that money.”
Richard Howorth with Square Books in Oxford just doesn’t think the idea is good business. “I think I would go out of business before I started asking my customers for money,” he says. “Once it’s become an unsustainable model its time to do something else.”
Business has been tight for bookstores across the country: A double shot of competition from Amazon.com and e-readers chased with lagging sales and foot traffic in a recovering economy.
Howorth says today’s bookstores are little more than showrooms for many readers. “People come in here all the time and browse and talk to us, and then they walk out the door and pull up their phone and order it on Amazon,” he says.
Evans believes the practice is a byproduct of the chain bookstore mentality and the down economy. Customers just want to save money and don’t appreciate the experience of going book shopping.
“I’m a big believer that customer service will win but with the recession its hard to think that the consumer is going to be that authentic,” he says.
And what about those popular e-readers?
“Ninety-seven percent of e-readers continue to read real books,” Howorth says. “I have always been more confidant that the physical book is simply a preferable format. It was a great invention to begin with like the bicycle or sailboat.”