Fairbanks bookstore trying online business

By Jeff Richardson

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner

Published: Thursday, Jan. 12 2012 7:05 p.m. MST

In this photo taken Thursday morning, Jan. 5, 2012, Gulliver's Books web manager Annie Tupek displays the home page of the store's new online store in Fairbanks, Alaska. After slowly watching online purchases nibble away at his business, Gulliver's Books owner David Hollingsworth has decided it's time to join the digital revolution.

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Eric Engman, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

FAIRBANKS, Alaska — After slowly watching online purchases nibble away at his business, Gulliver's Books owner David Hollingsworth has decided it's time to join the digital revolution.

The independent bookstore in College has launched its own online store, hoping to capitalize on Web sales of digital and traditional books. Gulliver's began publicizing its new online store two weeks ago, a month after a quiet launch.

It was a tough decision for Hollingsworth, who has hung onto an old-school bookstore approach while online retailers like Amazon boomed by selling books online. Customers still browse through the stacks at his two-story College Road store, stopping to grab a cup of coffee or sink into a well-worn couch.

Seeing digital book sales surge in recent years, however, convinced Hollingsworth he couldn't wait any longer before adding an online component to his business.

"It's past time for us to be involved in this," said Hollingsworth, who opened the store in 1985. "The e-readers are changing the way this business is done. We're trying to get a piece of it and satisfy the needs of our customers."

Gulliver's has operated a website for years, but the chance to purchase books there is new. Annie Tupek, who manages online sales for Gulliver's, said a book purchasing option has consistently been the top requested addition to the site in customer surveys.

The Gulliver's site was made possible largely with the help of a program through the American Booksellers Association that provides online support for more than 350 independent bookstores. The look of the Gulliver's site was created by the local staff, but the ABA contributes book descriptions and the software that runs the site.

"All the behind-the-curtain thing, all the programming, that's done by the ABA," Tupek said.

The online store won't offer the full Gulliver's inventory. The top floor of the bookstore is dominated by a huge selection of used books, and Tupek said the work to sell those online isn't worth the effort. She said some Alaskana books may be unavailable on the site, since they aren't all included in the distributor's database.

The online store, on the other hand, will offer many more new titles. Books ordered from the Gulliver's Books website will include titles that aren't physically in the store, Tupek said.

A distributor will ship those books from a separate site, although Gulliver's will receive a percentage from sales that originate from its site. Books from the Gulliver's store in Fairbanks will either be available for pick-up or shipping.

One of the key features at the site, from Gulliver's perspective, is giving customers a chance to purchase e-book downloads for digital readers. Tupek said that needs to be part of a long-term recipe for a viable bookstore.

"The industry is changing, and you've got to have some bit of the e-book market," she said. "We're not Amazon or Google, but having some bit of the market is better than having none of it."

The rise of online book purchases has been blamed for the death of brick-and-mortar bookstores — including the bankruptcy of national chains like Borders — but Hollingsworth said his situation isn't that dire. He said the rise of e-books has begun to have an effect on sales at Gulliver's, but said his bookstore continues to do a healthy business.

"It's affecting us a little, and we're trying to have it affect us less," he said.

Information from: Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, http://www.newsminer.com

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