Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Where are the bookstores?

by Sandra Parshall

Answer quickly, without taking time to ponder the variables: Which state do you think has the most bookstores per capita?

No, it’s not New York, and it’s not California. It’s Montana.

Montana comes in first in Publishers Weekly’s survey of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. With a population of 1,005,141 and 64 bookstores, Montana has a per capita ratio of 1 store to 15,705 residents.

Wyoming is second, with 35 stores serving a population of 576,412, and Vermont ranks third with 38 stores for 616,011 residents. The rest of the top 10 in per capita ratings are Alabama, Tennessee, Nebraska, Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas, and Missouri.

Dead last is New Jersey, which has 217 stores but a population of 8,864,500, giving it a per capita ratio of 1 to 40,851.

The Publishers Weekly report gives numbers for all states and DC. Every type of bookseller was counted: chains, independents, Christian bookshops, and big-box stores like Costco that have book departments. 

Most states, PW found, have more traditional bookstores than big-box stores and more independents than chains. The top three states in the number of bookstores per capita have few Barnes & Noble and Books-a-Million outlets. Vermont has only one chain store, one big-box retailer, and 36 independents. However, six states – Arizona, Maryland, Nevada, North Dakota, Utah, and Wisconsin – have more big-box stores than traditional bookstores.

The largest states in the country are all in the bottom half of bookstores-per- capita rankings:

California has 1,185 stores, more than any other state, but they serve a huge  population of 38,041,430, so its ratio is 1 to 32,102 and it ranks 46th.

Texas, with a population of 26,059,203 and 1,004 booksellers (second highest number in the nation), is 35th in per capita rankings.

New York is 49th, with 19,570,261 residents and 505 bookstores.

Florida, a bit smaller than New York with a population of 19,317,568, has more bookstores – 797 – giving it a ratio of 1 to 24,238. Florida ranks 29th among all states.

Overall, the survey found that the U.S. has 12,703 booksellers and 313,904,193 residents, a national ratio of 1 store per 24,053 people.

An interesting finding is that states with the most Christian booksellers tend to rank higher in the per capita ratings. In many states, the presence of Christian stores is the deciding factor in the per capita rank.

I was a little surprised to discover that my state, Virginia, has 372 bookstores. (Where are they?) With a population of 8,185,866, the state has a per capita ratio of 1 to 22,005 and is 26th on the PW list.

You can see the story and the rankings here. Where does your state stand?


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Liz Ghiselin Stein said...

It would be harder to believe that NY is 49th! if it weren't that I live in upper Westchester County, NY, which has to have quite a few well-educated people, and yet there are no independent bookstores of which I am aware, within a ten-mile radius. The Borders closed two years ago. I don't know if people just aren't reading books, or if it's Amazon all the way. I buy from Amazon, because I must.

Sandra Parshall said...

One thing PW doesn't get into: independent stores are usually small, and many specialize (Christian bookstores, mystery bookstores, children's bookstores, etc.), so they serve a relatively small number of people. A chain store is usually large and much more diverse than any independent, so it will serve a larger population. Simple numbers of stores may not be as important as the types of stores in an area.

Sheila Connolly said...

For shame, Masssachusetts! 41?

Try Ireland if you want bookstores--there's one nearly every block. Even in small towns: Skibbereen, population just over 2,000, has three. And they don't sell mass market over there, only trade format and up, so the books are not cheap. Go, Ireland!

Leslie Budewitz said...

I saw that, and truly, the high rank is a function of our low population, a squeak over a million in land the size of California. Plus the inclusion of box stores with book depts and the cluster of 8 bookstores in Missoula, where the Univ of Montana is. (One B&N, one Hastings, 1 Christian, 1 Univ, 2 small indies who sell only new books, 1 used, and 1 selling a mix of new & used.) There are plenty of folks here who live literally hundreds of miles from a bookstore -- so come out and open one!

Sandra Parshall said...

I think that's true in many places, Leslie. Bookstores tend to cluster in cities, and if you don't live in a dense population area you're out of luck. Booksellers can't make a living in rural areas. Then again, the competition in cities might do them in.

GM Malliet said...

Sheila - I will soon have a 4-hour layover in Dublin airport, where I bet they have a real bookstore.

Marcia Talley said...

Maryland is a sad, sad 40. Sigh.

Sally Carpenter said...

Doesn't surprise me to see Calif. in the low figures. For an indie store to stay in business is difficult because of the high price of real estate and landlords raising the rent when leases expire. That's why some mystery bookstores have closed recently. The large Christian bookstore near Fuller Seminary (a major theological school) closed recently but I don't know the reasons. Also, people in CA are computer savvy and shopping online is easier than fighting the traffic and driving long distances to a bookstore. Calif. also has a large Hispanic population. I wonder if stores that carry books in Spanish see good sales in that market. Just my thoughts. You'd think the large number of college boosktores would count, but I think many students are buying textbooks online.