By Rachel Aydt
Monday’s panel at BookExpo America, “Free for the Asking: Marketing with PR and Social Media” was a bit of a tease. After all, who doesn’t want something for free? What I wasn’t aware of is that I was going to stumble into the world of struggling indie bookstore owners, each struggling for their own part of a market share. Panelists included moderator Meg Smith, ABA (Tarrytown, NY); Jarek Steele, owner of Left Bank Books (Saint Louis, MO); Rob Dougherty, owner of The Clinton Book Shop (Clinton, NJ); Jack McKeown, owner of Books & Books (Westhampton Beach, NY).
The group could be best described as a quartet of Community Building Rockstar Superstars. “Independent stores don’t have a monopoly,” said Jarek Steele from St. Louis, MO. ‘We can’t discount books every time. We can’t create an e reader and make it only work with our bookstore. But what we do is more important. Independent bookstores connect our communities with our stories, or history, and create a sense of well being. That’s why people come to our store.”
Here are some of the community building tips from the panel. Most orbit around social media, but others involve some old-fashioned friendliness, as in 3-D person-to-person or person-to-canine encounters:
- Study Facebook diagnostics and arrange your frequent postings around them, suggests Dougherty. For example, moms put their kids on the bus at 7:40 and then come inside to have a cup of coffee and go to FB for five minutes. Post at that time Children’s Hour types of events, or other tidbits you think moms will like.
- Always post your Facebook statuses with a picture since people are infinitely more inclined to link out to your store when a picture is involved.
- Use social media to post other events and promote an indie culture in your community, as Jarek Steele, owner of Left Bank Books, has done in St. Louis with his Saint Louis Independent Bookstore Alliance. The alliance has pulled together 13 regional bookstores to create an online shared calendar, a website that cross promotes events, and a local Bestseller List, which is different than the NYT in that it tells you what your neighbors are reading. “This alliance helps small stores who don’t have a big voice. We’re not so much getting together to sell books, but to sell our identity.”
- If you build an indie alliance, like the one Steele did, you can have a day-long book tour with a lunch at a cute local restaurant. Authors can make appearances at the various stores. “We rented a bus, sold tickets for $35, and it sold out immediately. Everyone sold books all day long.”
- Partner your events with community organizations, such as a homeless advocacy group. “If 5% of those people who attend the events we sponsor are returning as customers, the event was a success,” said Dougherty.
- Host a Zombie Crawl night! Twenty five people in Clinton, NJ dressed up as zombies to roam the streets, presumably in the name of books. And probably around Halloween.
- If you see your authors linking to Amazon on their personal websites to sell books, send them a friendly note with a link directing them to your store, which hello, also sells the book.
- Sponsor a “technology petting zoo” for customers who shy off from the e-books and digital products you’re selling. The hands on lessons are a community building public service activity that will obviously promote sales.
- Create a “staff picks” FB page and incorporate fun Q&A’s about quirkier sides of their personalities. What kinds of shoes do they wear? What music do they listen to? Can readers relate to them on a personal level? If so, they become like friends and people will go back to the pages to see what they’re up to and what they’re reading. Link to the books their reading and sell them on your store’s webpage.
- If you have the space, have a children’s corner or room. Let them tear it apart five times a day and put it back together again.
Where on Amazon, B&N, or Google Books can you do that?