Bay Area independent bookseller explores new nonprofit model for survival
You won’t have to look far to take notice of an institution undergoing a period of rapid reinvention to survive.
Along with our public park systems (the subject of a current blog series), arts and cultural institutions and news organizations, independent booksellers are trying to figure out how adapt to big societal shifts to survive.
Bookstores, as community centers that foster an appreciation of the literary arts and humanities (critical for a healthy democracy), can also claim a public interest purpose.
What will the bookstore of the future look like?
According to this recent New York Times article, “The Bookstore’s Last Stand”, in the last ten years, nearly one in five independent bookstores (roughly 500) went out of business in the United States, many more of disappeared with the collapse of big chains and the last major bookstore chain standing might be withering away.
Amid the dramatic rise of e-books, e-readers, competition by online mega-stores and the demise of large chains like Borders, some iconic independent booksellers are hanging on, such as Powell’s Books in Oregon, whose flagship store in Portland might be the world’s largest bookstore with 63,000 square feet covering an entire city block.
In the Bay Area, the revered 56-year old independent bookseller, Kepler’s Books, will test a new business model that incorporates a nonprofit element for its operations that focus on literary and cultural events. Since 1955, this Menlo Park, California, bookstore has held approximately 2,000 author events and raised more than $200,000 for 120 neighborhood schools and nonprofit organizations. They re-envision the bookstore of the future as Kepler’s 2020.
Our vision combines a nonprofit organization dedicated to a deep roster of author events, lectures, and literary gatherings with a community-owned bookstore that preserves the physical space where people browse, discover, and enjoy books.
The project aims to create an innovative hybrid business model that includes two legal entities working in partnership: a for-profit, community-owned-and-operated bookstore, and a nonprofit organization that will feature on-stage author interviews, lectures by leading intellectuals, educational workshops and other literary and cultural events. The nonprofit entity will seek tax-deductible donations and corporate sponsorships.
Other innovations under consideration for Kepler’s include publishing-on-demand capabilities, an in-store e-book friendly browsing experience, a speaker’s bureau that welcomes emerging authors, a “concierge service” focused on bringing readers together and themed, community-building book swaps.
A literary entrepreneur on a mission to reinvent the independent bookstore model
Praveen Madan leads the Kepler’s 2020 volunteer transition team to develop a comprehensive development, financial and operational plan.
As reported in Palo Alto online, Madan and his wife, Christin Evans, bought the San Francisco bookstore The Booksmith in 2007, where they’ve focused on creating social opportunities around books. In 2009 they launched a Huffington Post blog to write about their experiences with reinventing independent bookselling. Madan and Evans describe how “bookstores have a unique opportunity to bring people together” in “Creating New Literary Experiences: Because Amazon Can’t Help You Make Friends.”
In “Why All the Fuss About ‘Independent’ Bookstores?” they offer three answers:
- They Provide a Cultural Experience for Readers.
- They Provide a Nurturing Environment for Lesser Known and Emerging Writers.
- They Enable Positive Social Change in Local Communities.