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For fifth straight year, membership rises for independent bookstore association

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NEW YORK, N.Y. - Independent booksellers may never regain the stature of the pre-digital, pre-superstore era, but their presence continues to grow.

The American Booksellers Association, the independents' trade group, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that core membership has increased to 1,664, up from 1,632 last year and more than 200 higher since 2009. It's the fifth straight increase for an organization that was losing members for decades and seemed in danger of permanent shrinkage under the combined pressures of Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble Inc. and Borders, discount clubs and a weak economy.

Association CEO Oren Teicher said during a recent interview that independent stores continue to benefit from several factors, from the demise of Borders and slowing of Barnes & Noble to the levelling off of e-book sales and the popularity of the "Buy Local" movement.

"To be sure, owning and operating an indie bookstore remains full of challenges, and things in the book business continue to change incredibly quickly," Teicher said. "But while it may very well once have been true that in retail bigger was always better, I think our recent history proves otherwise."

The new numbers will be formally reported to association members later this week during BookExpo America, the publishing industry's annual national convention, being held in New York City. Also at BookExpo, bestselling author James Patterson will announce the latest round of grants in a $1 million campaign to help independents.

Stores continue to close, but, unlike a few years ago, more new ones are opening, including Letters Bookshop in Durham, North Carolina, and Granada Books in Santa Barbara, California. With a growing amount of independent sellers operating more than one store, the number of actual outlets topped 2,000 for the first time since 2005. Posman Books in Manhattan is among those that now have multiple locations.

"I think independent sellers have come to understand their customers better and to provide a level of service that will please our customers and make them want to come back," said Posman Vice-President Robert Fader. "Independent sellers used to be snobby. I worked at a store where we wouldn't stock Stephen King. I was amazed at some of the choices we made. And then a Barnes & Noble opened near us and in a couple of years we were out of business."

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