How Independent Bookstores are Thriving: Community, Curation, and Convening

How are independent bookstores not just surviving, but thriving, in the age of Amazon? It’s a question that Ryan Raffaelli, assistant professor at Harvard Business School, first asked in 2015, compelling him to study independent bookstores ever since.

Raffaelli is the author of the working academic paper “Reinventing Retail: The Novel Resurgence of Independent Bookstores” and was the keynote speaker at Winter Institute 15.

Raffaelli’s research looks at how bookstores have managed to reinvent themselves in the face in the face of technological change. What did he find?

“Independent bookstores provide a story of hope for community-led businesses.”

Ryan Raffaelli

Raffaelli’s study identifies 3 C’s that have contributed to the resurgence of independent bookstores:

Independent bookstores have promoted the idea of shopping local and helped develop the value of COMMUNITY by stressing their strong connection to community values.

“I recognize that we’re not really in the same business as Amazon. You can buy a book anywhere, but you can’t buy community.”


Independent bookstores’ CURATION of inventory focuses on providing a more specialized and personal experience to their customers than competitors do. One of the key takeaways from this study is that bookstores should compete primarily on experience and quality, not on price and inventory.

“The real pleasure in bookselling comes in pairing the right book with the right person.”


Independent bookstores have redefined their role in communities and become the place where people CONVENE. Bookstores are no longer simply a place to buy books; they are gathering places and venues in the community.

“If we see our products as books and what we compete on price, we lose. If we see our product as an experience, of which books are one piece, then we can compete.”


In the face of huge technological changes in the bookselling industry, independent bookstores are continuing to provide incredible value to their local communities.

At, we strive to provide a unique online experience based on bookseller curation (check out our bookseller recommendations!), and we are committed to communicating the value of independent bookstores in their local communities by highlighting their stories.

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