Publishers Weekly has put together a state-by-state guide of bookstores per capita — a great resource for the industry at large, and specifically writers plotting which states it makes the most sense to tour with a book. By collecting “figures on the number of bookstores in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, a total that includes every branch of bookselling: chain stores, big-box stores, independents, and the Association of Christian Retailers’ CBA stores,” their report represents a picture of not only where book selling is healthiest; but also where readers have a place to find books, receive book recommendations, and engage with other readers.
It seems states with smaller populations are the way to go. Montana, for example, which ranks highest on the “Bookselling by State” list has the most book stores per capita (one bookstore per 15,705) with 35 of the state’s 40 bookstores (nearly 88%) being independent. Meanwhile, New Jersey ranks lowest at one bookstore per 40,851 New Jerseyans, with 114 of their 142 bookstores (80%) being independent. PW notes:
Of the seven territories with populations under one million (Alaska, D.C., Delaware, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, Wyoming), five were in the top 25 per-capita ranking. Conversely, Texas and California ranked #35 and #46, respectively, despite being the only two states with more than 1,000 stores each. The states with the fewest bookstores total (27 each), North Dakota and Rhode Island, were ranked #34 and #50, respectively (North Dakota ranked higher because of its considerably lower population).
If only the report went deeper. The Publishers Weekly piece doesn’t share a deep dive on where in the states, bookstores are concentrated, for example. It would be helpful to know the make up of the neighborhoods that have independent versus chain bookstores. What kinds of bookshops are in urban versus suburban areas? What are the demographics and income levels of the communities indie booksellers belong to versus chain stores versus the big box stores that sell books versus Association of Christian Retailers’ CBA stores? That’s probably info that costs money, but if they were going to do the study, it would have been great to surface those results or make the connection.
Dwell.com has a map of the US highlighting where the independent bookstores are, complete with little blurbs about each store’s origin/community focus. AALBC.com has also listed independently owned bookstores that specifically serve communities of color.
CBA stores were a big factor in the PW study:
[S]tates that had large numbers of CBA stores tended to fare better in the ranking. Several states were bolstered by CBA stores, including Alabama (126 CBA stores), Tennessee (166), Colorado (111), and Missouri (133). All were in the top 10 per-capita ranking, despite the fact that each has a population greater than 3 million. …The CBA effect was substantial enough to affect an entire region: most states in the Northeast, which had the lowest concentration of CBA stores, were at the bottom of the ranking, and five of the region’s states were in the bottom seven.
Check out the full report here.