You buy your fruit at a farm stand to support local sustainable agricultural. You purchase holiday gifts at Ten Thousand Villages to support fair trade practices. What about the books on your e-reader?

Can your e-book buying choices make a difference? 


In this series, I examine alternatives to the mega-online booksellers.

Porter Square Books 2Part 1: Independent Bookstores

I love independent bookstores, but I rarely visit one to buy a book. In fact, I rarely buy any paper books at all. Thankfully, more and more small, locally owned bookstores are offering e-books.

It’s so easy to buy through the e-book Goliath, but, really, it’s pretty simple to buy e-books from an independent bookstore.

Today, Josh Cook of Porter Square Books in Cambridge, Massachusetts is visiting my blog to answer all of my questions (and hopefully some of yours) about e-books and the future of independent bookstores.

Fun Fact: Several scenes of my novel, Drowning Cactus, are set inside Porter Square Books.

Hi, Josh.  Thank you so much for taking the time for this conversation.

To get started, can you tell me why might someone want to buy an e-book from you instead of one of the mega-online bookstores?

For the same reasons  they would buy a regular book from us; the sense  of community, the benefits of shopping locally, the recommendations  from and relationships with the staff.

With the rise in popularity of e-books, do you see your business changing? Will there always be a place for bookstores housing bookshelves full of paper books?

…physical bookstores aren’t going anywhere for the foreseeable  future.

Ebooks are just part of an overall changing landscape for independent bookstores. The big box stores, Amazon, online shopping in general, and now ebooks have changed how people buy books even if they haven’t done much to change why people buy books. Bookstores have had to go online, start carrying more gift items, and find ways to emphasize the particular value they bring to selling books. Many stores are successfully doing just that.

Furthermore, there is still plenty of other data to suggest that physical bookstores aren’t going anywhere for the foreseeable  future. For example, most ebook buyers also buy print books. And there is also some indication that ereading will reach a plateau. Already the year-to-year increases in ebook sales have been slowing down. That doesn’t mean ebooks don’t pose a challenge to stores like ours. Right now, ebooks prices are so low that almost nobody can make a profit selling them, but our response to that challenge is to continue to be a great resource to all the readers in our community. And, at the moment, it seems like there are enough of them to make a place for this bookstore full of paper books.

What types of e-books do you carry?Porter Square Books 2

Through the Kobo partnership with the American Booksellers Association we carry every ebook in the Kobo catalog; new bestsellers, classics, free public domain ebooks, and self-published ebooks, all in the .EPUB format. I believe the total catalog is well over three million titles. In the store we have physical limitations on what  we can and cannot carry which makes certain kinds of books, like self-published books by non-local authors, almost impossible for us to stock and sell. But there are no physical limitations with ebooks. We’ll probably never be able to carry Amish romances, or self-published conspiracy theories, or every book by Anthony Trollope in the store, but we can provide the ebook editions  to readers who want them.

So, how does it work? Can you talk my readers through the e-book purchasing process?

There are two ways you can buy ebooks from us. If you’re in the market for an ereader as well, you can buy the device from us. When you start up the device you’ll be prompted to create a Kobo account. Kobo will recognize you bought the device from us and will associate that account with Porter Square Books. After that all the purchases made with that account, whether through the ebook store on the ereader or on a separate device, will credit the store.

If you already have a device you can buy through our website. Find the book using the Kobo ebooks search box on the left side of the web page and buy it like you would anything else online. You’ll be prompted to create a Kobo account and just like with the device, that account will be associated with Porter Square Books, meaning your purchases  will credit us whether you start on our webpage or not. If you read on an iPad or an Android device, download the Kobo reading app. Login with your new account when you launch the app. When you synch the app, your book will be there. If you are reading on a Nook, Sony Reader, older Kobo or other non-Kindle ereader, download the .EPUB file to your computer after you’ve complete the purchase. Then download and install Adobe Digital Editions (it’s free). Open the .EPUB file in  Adobe. It will now be on your Adobe “shelf.” Plug in your ereader of choice. An icon for it should appear in the lower left of Adobe. Drag the ebook from the shelf  to the device and you’re done.  If the ebook is DRM-free and your ereader has a web browser, sometimes  you can download the .EPUB directly, but there really isn’t a way to tell from the purchase if this will work.

(You can find out everything about our ebooks, including the devices we sell here:

Books make great gifts but what about e-books? Can people gift an e-book from Porter Square Books?

Not really. Though Kobo has been exploring ways to gift ebooks, I’m not sure they will be able to create a mechanism that is as emotionally satisfying as wrapping a book and handing it to a friend or loved one.

The key to a successful future for independent bookstores, I think, will be embracing technology, while maintaining the pleasures of traditional ways of reading, browsing and meeting to talk about books. It seems Porter Square Books is managing that balance admirably.

  • Coming up next in the series: Indie presses and libraries, including those that don’t shelve any books!