Used book stores surviving e-books

PARKERSBURG – The growing popularity of electronic books – e-books – is among the factors impacting national book chains.

However, the impact has not been as significant for local used book stores, which remain the only local venues for book lovers with the closing of retail stores like Borders and the locally-owned Sugden’s Book Store over the last several years.

Lee Campbell is owner of the Paperback Palace at 515 28th St. in Vienna. She opened the store in August 2004 at a location on Grand Central Avenue after deciding to merge businesses with someone she knew with a collection of books for an online book store.

Paperback Palace primarily focuses on paperback books, both new and used. The new books are a much smaller segment of the business, although Campbell said she is working to enlarge the selection of new books available at the store. The store also does special orders and takes in used books for trade.

At nearly a decade old, Paperback Palace is one of the remaining local book stores that predates the e-book trend, but Campbell said she has not seen a big impact on her business from the growing use of e-book readers and tablets during that period.

“We really haven’t noticed too much in the trends with issues with either the Internet sales or e-books impacting us,” she said. “We don’t get nearly as many Internet sales as we used to. Every time shipping prices go up, the book sales go down because now the shipping is more than a paperback. It’s just degraded very slowly,” Campbell said.

Campbell said she hasn’t seen a big impact from e-book sales on the business. From her observations and talking with customers, they seem more willing to buy hardcover books in e-book format because of the price savings, but there is little difference in price between an e-book and a paperback – which her business specializes in – at the current time.

“There are people who buy the hardbacks on the Kindle and then turn around and wait for the paperback to come out and then come get it from us,” she said. “There’s not been a huge impact from the Kindles and e-readers.

“I’ve noticed some changes, but not a huge impact,” Campbell said.

In addition, Campbell said most of her customer base are older residents without computers, tablets or e-readers, or might not be as computer-focused as younger people. Many of the older people who do get e-readers often receive them as gifts from younger family members and may not make use of them, she said.

Campbell said some people she has talked to have adopted both standards, supplementing books in one format with the other. An e-book reader can carry multiple books together to save space, while the paper books can be taken places – like the beach in the summer – where possible loss or damage to the e-reader might be a concern, she said.

In a related area, Campbell said email and social media have been positive and growing tools for the business, allowing her to send newsletters and provide updates about changes and special events at the business.

“That’s one of our goals for this year, to be more consistent” with social media updates and related items, Campbell said. The store is currently on Facebook and she is considering getting on to Twitter this year, she said.

Jason McCrady, co-owner of J&M Used Book Store, at 1215 Blizzard Drive, Suite B, in Parkersburg, said the store has been open for three-and-a-half years – in the middle of the growing e-book trend – but that hasn’t seemed to have a big impact on his business, he said.

J&M has expanded twice in the last three years, growing to triple its original size with expanded selections and offerings and seeing a doubling in sales between the first and second years, McCrady said.

The store focuses on used books and a few related book products. It specializes in Christian inspirational fiction and non-fiction, but also offers a wide range of literary genres from science fiction and mysteries to thrillers and westerns, “basically everything,” he said.

McCrady said one of the advantages for his store continues to be competitive pricing, with used books often costing less than new hardbacks and new e-books and even many new paperbacks. He also gets a lot of customers who may try a new book by an author they haven’t read before and then want to find previous books by that author at the book store.

While the e-books are continuing to grow in popularity, there is still a strong base of customers who prefer traditional physical books, McCrady said.

“I hear it almost daily. They like having a book in their hand, they like the smell of it, they like the feel of it. They like being able to go browse around a store instead of just looking at an Internet marketplace trying to find another book to read,” he said.

While the used book market has not seemed to be affected, Campbell said it has been easy to see the impact of e-books on the new book market with the loss of Borders and continued trouble for Barnes & Noble with their brick-and-mortar stores.

Looking ahead, McCrady hopes to continue growing and expanding his business but wants to remain in south Parkersburg.

In Marietta, Barking Dog Books and Art on Putnam Street has been operating for about 10 years, first on Front Street.

“It has had some impact, but I don’t think it has been as dire as some people think,” Barking Dog co-owner Marianne Monoghan said of the e-book trend.

The store has many customers who use both e-readers and regular books. Monoghan said the e-readers are good for reading regular books, but don’t work as well for other physical book formats like art books, photo books and the often-large coffeetable style of books.

“We’re busier than ever,” she said of the Marietta store.