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Monadnock region’s bookstores facing online competition

  • Meredith Lyons of Bennington browses the children’s books for her 3-year-old son at the Toadstool Bookshop in Peterborough on Oct. 10. <br/><br/>(Staff Photo by Alyssa Dandrea)<br/><br/>(Staff Photo by Alyssa Dandrea)

    Meredith Lyons of Bennington browses the children’s books for her 3-year-old son at the Toadstool Bookshop in Peterborough on Oct. 10.

    (Staff Photo by Alyssa Dandrea)

    (Staff Photo by Alyssa Dandrea) Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • <br/>(Staff Photo by Alyssa Dandrea)Local bookstores are working to find way to draw readers into their brick and mortar locations, even as our world becomes more digital.<br/><br/>(Staff Photo by Alyssa Dandrea)


    (Staff Photo by Alyssa Dandrea)Local bookstores are working to find way to draw readers into their brick and mortar locations, even as our world becomes more digital.

    (Staff Photo by Alyssa Dandrea) Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Meredith Lyons of Bennington browses the children’s books for her 3-year-old son at the Toadstool Bookshop in Peterborough on Oct. 10. <br/><br/>(Staff Photo by Alyssa Dandrea)<br/><br/>(Staff Photo by Alyssa Dandrea)
  • <br/>(Staff Photo by Alyssa Dandrea)Local bookstores are working to find way to draw readers into their brick and mortar locations, even as our world becomes more digital.<br/><br/>(Staff Photo by Alyssa Dandrea)

With the click of a button and a few page scrolls, e-books — or electronic books — give readers access to millions of bestsellers, haunting mysteries, memoirs and gripping science fiction novels.

The days when summer beachgoers packed up their favorite paperback haven’t yet passed, but the Monandock region’s bookstore owners say that the increasing popularity of the Kindle, Nook and other e-readers is changing how people interact with the printed word on a daily basis.

Already faced with an uncertain financial market, brick-and-mortar bookstores, including Toadstool Bookshop in Peterborough and Mindfull Books & Ephemera in Jaffrey, are grappling with how to best compete with an often cheaper and infinitely expanding online e-book database. Since the mass production of the Kindle and other e-readers a few years ago, local bookstore owners say that they have seen a decline in their paper book sales.

Libraries throughout New Hampshire have also seen a noticeable shift away from book checkouts to e-book downloads, said New Hampshire State Librarian Michael York in a recent interview with the Ledger-Transcript.

In the past seven years, York said that 190 libraries, representing approximately 1.3 million people in the state, have added an e-book database to their collection with the help of state and federal dollars.

“Those libraries that haven’t signed up are, in many cases, restricted because they don’t have good broadband service in their communities,” York said. “But that will change over time.”

Toadstool Bookshop Owner Willard Williams said at his Peterborough store that while the recent changes in the book market are visible and noteworthy they are difficult to quantify.

Exactly how much of the store’s revenue loss can be blamed on the nationwide economic downturn and how much can be attributed to the sale of e-readers is anyone’s guess, he said.

Toadstool’s Keene store moved from the second floor to the first floor of the Colony Mill Marketplace in September 2011 to make its products more accessible to customers and increase its visibility from the roadway, Williams said. Similarly, Toadstool’s Milford store moved to a smaller space in town this past May.

While the 1990s represented a boom in hardcover and paper book sales, Williams said Toadstool stores have, in recent years, had to realign staffing levels with the current realties of the market.

“We have fewer people working in our stores because of the competition,” Williams said referring to electronic books and readers. “We have maybe 15 to 20 percent less staff than we did a few years ago.”

Bookstore owners everywhere have been impacted by the technological revolution, Williams said, and left wondering what’s next, as well as what to do about it. Toadstool Bookshop has sold e-books on its website since 2010, but Williams said that Amazon has continued to dominate the market because only e-books sold on amazon.com were compatible with its Kindle.

The subjects most affected by the rise of e-readers are popular and science fiction books, especially those that people can read quickly and don’t necessarily want to keep, Williams said.

However, kids books continue to be a top-seller in the store, he noted.

“Bookstores are doing what we can to communicate to publishers what our readers want, and to make sure that the feel of the book is pleasant to hold in the hand,” Williams said. “Our actual sales of e-books are small. We are still very much focused on selling the physical book.”

Mindfull Books & Ephemera Owner John Sepe said the evolution of the e-book has required bookstore owners to be more innovative about how they draw people into their shops. Musical guests, the addition of cafes and diverse products like jewelry, scarves and stationary are a few of methods bookstore owners have employed in an effort to maintain its customer base, Sepe said.

He added that the popularity of e-readers is affecting used book sales at Mindfull Books and will continue to do so, possibly even in greater numbers.

Despite the uncertain future, though, Sepe said bricks-and-mortar bookstores do have a few advantages to the online book market.

“Collectible and used books are a different entity,” Sepe said. “As young people age they may have a nostalgia for their parents’ library and be reminded of the nice leather-bound books on the shelf.”

Another advantage, Sepe said, is that small bookshops provide people with an intimate community-based experience that can’t be recreated online.

“There will always be that percentage of people that love the book,” he said.

Alyssa Dandrea can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 228 or adandrea@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter at @alyssadandrea.

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