Independent booksellers turn a new (Web) page

June 13, 1999|By Hartford Courant

Despite the recent failure of the planned merger of huge book retailer Barnes & Noble and top book wholesaler Ingram Book Group, these days are not a happy chapter in the story of independent bookstores.

During the past several years, hundreds of independent sellers have closed. Many that remain must compete with a Borders or Barnes & Noble across the street. Online giants like Amazon are taking away business. Even the movies ("You've Got Mail") have found comedy and romance in the independents vs. chains battle.

The independents have been in a tough position. Complaining hasn't helped, and so far, neither has litigation. Many consumers support independent stores in theory, but like the huge selection at chain stores and the convenience and novelty of Internet shopping.

What to do? Well, if you can't beat them, join them -- at least in cyberspace. Beginning in August, independent bookstores will unite online at a new Web site called Booksense.com, part of a national marketing campaign (slogan: "Independent bookstores for Independent minds") aimed at convincing consumers of independent bookstores' importance -- and providing an alternative to big-time online booksellers.

Many independents already have their own Web pages, but not all engage in "e-commerce." Booksense.com will link them and allow customers to browse online in stores around the country.

Each independent seller can personalize its part of the Booksense.com site, offer employee recommendations and information about events and, of course, sell books (or even provide gift certificates).

Booksellers seem enthusiastic, if a bit cautious. Some worry it may be too little, too late. "If we'd been on top of it," said one, "it might be the independent booksellers who were leading on the Web, not Amazon.com."

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