From Amazon Bookseller to Brick and Mortar – Reversing the Bookselling Trend

The rash of digital-first brands that are now publishing in print helped many to realize why digital longs to be tangible. Now, more evidence, this time coming from the world of used books.

Idaho Falls is now home to a new used bookstore, owned by local Michael Barber. That alone is news enough in a town that hasn’t had a used bookshop since Book City Closed three years ago. But the real news is what The Book Shelf is stocked with, as Ryan Suppe writes in the Idaho State Journal.

“You may have bought books from him in the past without knowing it; he’s been selling used books on Amazon for the last decade,” Suppe writes. “While retailers across the country are leaving brick-and-mortar stores and selling exclusively online, Barber went the opposite direction.

“Barber, his wife Amanda Poitevin and the store manager/partial owner Tony Chabis took what used to be a warehouse — where Barber and his father, Alan Barber, began fulfilling online book orders in 2010 — and cleaned it up, bolted down the shelves, bought a cash register and invited underserved Idaho Falls bookworms to buy, sell or trade,” Suppe continues.

It’s the exact reverse of the trend that shook the book industry more than a decade, as brick and mortar stores gave way to online booksellers. According to Suppe, Alan Barber (Michael’s dad) began selling books online after leaving his job at Book City in the late 2000s, turning his massive collection of used books into an online business.

While Barber senior has since died, his son carried on the work, first selling online, but now also selling out of the brick and mortar warehouse-turned-retail space. Why the shift? According to Barber, selling online has become too costly due to rising shipping costs and Amazon’s demands for quick fulfillment.

“The economic incentives that used to be there for selling online are going away,” he told Suppe. “The legitimate hope is to not be on Amazon anymore.”

While towns and cities across the country struggle with the loss of retail stores – Sears, Kmart and Payless all closed in Idaho Falls – the bookstore sector is a bright exception.

“In the last decade there has been a resurgence for independent bookstores, according to the American Booksellers Association. Book sales at independent bookstores increased about 7.6 percent between 2016 and 2018, the ABA says,” writes Suppe.

In some towns, print books have achieved almost cult status, like in Cincinnati where there are more bookstores per capita than San Francisco.

Barber believes there’s a good reason for this.

“If you know what you want, you just go to Amazon and type it in, right?” Barber told Suppe. “Stores like this are about people who don’t know what they want. Or they’re looking for something but they’re open to other things as well. You may find the one thing you’re looking for but you find four things that you’re not looking for. It’s much more of an experience for people who are just looking for a book.”

If you find yourself in Idaho Falls, stop by. You’re sure to find something to make it worth your trip. A good book – in print — is priceless.