Are Books Making a Comeback?

And what does that mean for Philly booksellers?

Maybe predictions of the death of written, printed paper books were premature.

A new report in the New York Times suggests as much, based on two key points of data:

E-reader sales have flattened: “E-book sales fell by 10 percent in the first five months of this year, according to the Association of American Publishers, which collects data from nearly 1,200 publishers. Digital books accounted last year for around 20 percent of the market, roughly the same as they did a few years ago.”

The number of actual bookstores, however, is on the rise: “The American Booksellers Association counted 1,712 member stores in 2,227 locations in 2015, up from 1,410 in 1,660 locations five years ago.”

Michael Fox, the owner of Joseph Fox Bookshop in Center City doesn’t thing that printed books are on the cusp of resurgence. It’s just that the death of those books — and the little bookstores that carry them — has never come to fruition, despite many years of predictions.

“It’s always something,” Fox said, noting that small booksellers have variously been threatened during the last 20 years by “big box” retailers like Barnes & Noble, then, then by e-readers. Nothing has ever finished the job.

“Since the advent of e-books, yeah, independent bookstores continue to open,” he said. “E-books have cut into store sales, but they haven’t had the catostrophic effect that was predicted.”

Over at Mostly Books in Queen Village, proprietor Joe Russakoss says the advent of e-reading has done little to affect his used books business.

“In terms of my business, the Internet revolution didn’t really affect it — except in one way: There’s no point in carrying erotica,” he said, laughing. “The same people have always been coming through. I was always expecting a big crash, but it never came.”

There are plenty of ways regular books beat electronics, he said.

“You don’t have ads popping up all the time. You don’t have to worry about it getting stolen,” Russakoss said. ‘It’s a very good entertainment value — for under $5 you can have something forever, not a virtual thing.”

Fox says his secret to success is simple: “We have great books, great customers,” he said, “and great customer service.”

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