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The Twig Book Shop: Making Friends With E-Books

Now in their third year at the Pearl complex, The Twig Book Shop is finding solid footing in San Antonio and continues to stay visible by partnering with non-profits and having author signings in-store.

Though they are one of the most well known of the stores featured in these profiles, it's the way they have adapted to the modern book industry that makes them worth taking a closer look at.

Hello, e-reader. Nice to meet you.

The Twig's relationship with e-books began when Google Books was still Google Editions, and has turned into a great example of how independent stores can embrace new technology to adapt age-old practices and run their stores more efficiently.

"It's not something that's going to help pay the rent, necessarily, but it is a niche that we can have, too," Maceo said about the relatively small percentage of sales her store generates from the e-books.

Even though the embrace of digital sales doesn't necessarily mean much of a financial boost, the influence of e-books is reflected in what customers see stocked on the shelves.

Maceo said that e-book sales have helped her to be smarter about what books to buy and how many; looking at trends in e-book sales to see what people are reading and reinforcing this research by directly asking their customers what they are interested in and how they read.

The time it takes to actually look at what is in demand is worth the saved space in the store, space that can be filled with a smarter selection of books rather than long-shot publisher pushes.

Sometimes you just can't beat a real book

E-books are convenient -- you can load hundreds and thousands onto your e-reader and have it with you at all times -- and e-readers are so light that it is not much of a burden to carry around, but what about a book that really speaks to you? A book that you would read again and again?

Credit Chris Eudaily / TPR
This sign encourages people who are browsing and buying online to help support the local store instead.

These are the books that become a part of who you are because you feel like they say something about how you see the world. Books that mean so much that you want your friends to see it when they are visiting your house and ask you about it.

For these books, a file on your device just won't do the trick, and in this way e-books help feed the market for hardbacks.

In the music industry, record labels have seen the upward sales of vinyl albums, and knowing what they do about audience listening habits and mobile devices have started to include digital copies of the album along with the purchase of the hard copy. Is this sort of practice in the near future for books?

Sometimes, as with art books, photography books or even cookbooks, there are books that just don't translate all that well into an e-version. These books will forever hold a place on the shelves of book stores, and Maceo said that these types of books are usually very popular around the holidays.

If you only knew the power of the Dark Side

As a bookstore manager, you would think that Maceo would be favoring the print manifestation of literature without much of a hesitation; however, she said that she regularly reads on her smartphone and is willing to take a chance with the sample e-reader the store received with their new e-book provider Kobo.

"It's going to tempt me and I'm going to get to know it and make friends with it. It's like getting to know your dark side," laughed Maceo.

Retail store, online shoppers

With the farmers market just around the corner every weekend and other festivals and special events bringing people to the development on a regular basis, The Twig is a convenient stop for foot traffic in the area.

But this doesn't necessarily translate into sales as consumers have grown so accustomed to getting good deals online.

"We do have people -- I think rather brazenly -- that will take out their phones and take pictures, or write the ISBNs down, and they're probably ordering right there as we speak from another source," Maceo said.

This is a trend that many other small and boutique shops face -- the idea that they are an open catalog for browsing.

In order to combat this practice, Maceo said that they borrowed an idea from another store; putting up signs that say: "See it here, Buy it here, Keep us here," to help encourage visitors to support the local store instead of a major online retailer.

What the future holds

Maceo said she feels good about 2013, and if awareness of local independent stores like The Twig continues to rise, then the industry as a whole will continue to grow and more and more independent book stores will pop back up in neighborhoods.

But a word for the wise.

If there is anything that the book industry can learn from the recession and over-expansion is that it needs to pay closer attention to what customers want and how they want it, a lesson that is directly linked to taking a more receptive stance on new technology and methods of distribution.

On-air preview of The Twig Book Shop with Store Manager Claudia Maceo.

*Disclosure Note* The Twig is an underwriter on Texas Public Radio, a fact that played no part in their selection for this project. The store was selected because of what it reflects in the book industry as a whole, and more specifically the way in which it has adapted to e-books and e-readers.

My journalism journey began with an idea for a local art and music zine and the gumption to make it happen with no real plan or existing skill set.