By Roger Tagholm and Siobhan O’Leary
“The mark of a great city is the quality of its bookshops — it behoves us to support them” said Gail Rebuck, Chair of Penguin Random House UK at the launch of the UK’s industry-wide “Books Are My Bag” campaign. The event was held on Monday night, appropriately enough, in Foyles flagship in central London where guests included many supporting publishers and writers, among them Sebastian Faulks, Kathy Lette and Rob Ryan.
The campaign, put together by M&C Saatchi, celebrates bricks-and-mortar bookstores and physical books, and will see more than a quarter of a million “Books Are My Bag” tote bags given away in bookstores this weekend, as well as numerous events taking place in bookstores. Celebrities have been photographed with the bags and reading books, and the campaign’s mission statement says: ‘This bag is designed to encourage the most important people, the book reading public, to assert their love and support for bookshops and encourage others to do so.”
Publishers and retailers have funded the campaign, among them Random House, Hachette, Penguin, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, Bloomsbury, the Independent Alliance, Waterstones, WHSmith and Easons in Ireland. In all, over 1,800 retailers are participating.
Booksellers Association President Patrick Neale, co-owner of British Prime Minister David Cameron’s local bookshop, Jaffe & Neale in Chipping Norton in the Cotswolds, told guests: “In the last 10 years, a third of our bookshops have closed. When Borders closed, one in ten book sales disappeared forever. We’ve had to face some pretty tough news. But bookshops remain the best place to choose books.”
The campaign owes a little to the USA’s Indiebound initiative, except that this one is about all bookshops. Everyone is being urged to buy a physical book in a bookshop this weekend: it will be interesting to see if there is a noticeable spike in the figures.
Oren Teicher, CEO of the American Booksellers Association (ABA) — which runs the successful IndieBound initiative — independent bookstores are experiencing a modest renaissance of sorts. “The ‘buy local’ movement is burgeoning in the United States as people become more conscientious about buying food, clothes, etc.,” he said. “It is a simple fact today that there are millions of consumers who are making the decision to shop in a locally-owned, independent business simply because it is a locally-owned independent business,” he added.
Facts and Figures from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance
This sentiment is reflected in the numbers as well. Programmes that celebrate independent retailers and support localism, like IndieBound, are having an impact. According to an Independent Business Survey released in February of this year by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) — a national non-profit research and educational organization focused on providing innovative strategies, models and information to support strong, community rooted, environmentally sound and equitable local economies — independent businesses expanded their revenue in 2012, thanks in part to “buy local first” initiatives.
For the sixth year in a row, the ILSR teamed up with the ABA and dozens of other business organizations to gather data from 2,377 independent, locally owned businesses across all 50 states and Washington, DC. Survey respondents — which ranged from independent bookstores to toy stores and banks to restaurants — reported that their annual revenue grew by an average of 6.8% in 2012 (3.7% among retailers, which comprised about half of the respondents).
What stands out is that independent businesses located in cities with a highly visible “buy local first” campaign run by a local business organisation outperformed those in cities without such a campaign (an 8.6 per cent revenue increase in 2012, as opposed to 3.4 per cent for those elsewhere). Seventy-five per cent of survey respondents in cities with a “buy local” initiative reported that the programme had had a positive impact on their business, the vast majority adding that it had increased local media coverage of independent businesses.
IndieBound: How Does It Work?
Part of the complexity of creating an initiative like IndieBound is that the participants are, by very definition, local. There are no cookie-cutter solutions. But that’s sort of the point. “People don’t want their communities to all be the same. One way in which that gets manifested is by having a healthy community of local indie businesses,” said Teicher. The idea behind IndieBound was never was to create a national brand or to create a “look” that would be used across the network of participating stores, according to Teicher. “The idea is to empower stores to take advantage of an array of material, adapt it, change it, make it work,” he said. IndieBound creates a full range of marketing material — posters, bumper stickers, t-shirts, buttons, cards, logos, banners, and more — which participating bookstores can then download and adapt to meet their own needs. There are hundreds of variations on the theme and stores have the option of changing the fonts, colors and sizes of the materials. A DIY page offers hundreds of suggestions for implementing these marketing materials.
Posters and other messaging provided by IndieBound remind readers that locally spent dollars go three to four times further than a dollar that gets spent online or at a chain, that local businesses create higher paying jobs for the community, and that taxes charged are reinvested in the community. Economic impact studies come back with pretty much the same results no matter where they’re conducted, according to Teicher. And the number of IndieBound participants has been steadily increasing to reflect this.
Another heartening sign that the “local” movement is gaining traction is the growing success of American Express’ Small Business Saturday, said Teicher. American Express, which created the promotion in 2010, estimates that $5.5 billion were spent nationwide at small businesses on the Saturday after Thanksgiving last year. And one more sign that it’s having an impact? According to Teicher, recent Wal-Mart national TV campaigns make a point of saying that they buy produce from local farmers. “Imitation suggests that this movement is resonating,” said Teicher. “But what they can’t do with any degree of credibility is say they’re local,” he added.
Which is not to say that IndieBound is meant to be anti-chain. It is decidedly pro-local. “The underlying core of all of this is that when you go and shop in a locally owned bookstore, what you’ve got are people of your community who reflect the sensibilities of your community. That’s hard to replicate online or in some large national corporation,” explained Teicher. But, he added, there are still going to be times when consumers are going to shop in corporate big-box stores.
Cross-marketing and cross-merchandising with other local businesses — from providing coupons for bike stores to promoting local restaurants — are another way in which bookstores have adapted to help fuel the growing recognition of how important localism is. “Our data has shown that consumers who shop in one indie business are likely to shop in another indie business,” Teicher said, adding, “You want consumers to see and hear the message in multiple places.”
Not just bricks-and-mortar
We often associate indie bookstores as the absolute alternative to online book buying, but the IndieBound initiative is by no means limited to bricks-and-mortar stores. In 2012, there was a 28% increase in online sales for bookstores using the IndieCommerce platform. And independent bookstores have also partnered with Kobo to offer their customers access to over 3 million ebook titles. The IndieBound site encourages ebook readers to purchase a Kobo device from a participating independent bookstore and create an account using a special link on the bookstore’s website to ensure that their bookstore will share in the proceeds.
It’s a bit of an oxymoron to talk about a global local movement, but, as Teicher points out, there are some commonalities on the “buy local” front that absolutely have applications virtually everywhere in the world. IndieBound has partnerships with colleagues in the UK and New Zealand. They share materials and adapt them to different marketing sensibilities. In addition, the International Booksellers Federation meets every year in Frankfurt (and other places) to discuss ways to synergise their efforts. The increased awareness and drive toward buying local is resonating worldwide.
Mind the Book! — Germany
The Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels — the German Publishers and Booksellers Association — developed the “Vorsicht Buch!” campaign at the request of its members right after the annual meeting in June 2012. The goal of the campaign, which was officially launched in March of this year at the Leipzig Book Fair, is to raise awareness — particularly among non-readers or those who don’t read much — of the importance of the book.
The advantages of shopping in a local, independent store are no secret. They are important cultural and social centres, places where you can get personal recommendations that you just won’t find online. The existence of a fixed book price in Germany means that independents do not have to worry about competing on price. But still there are challenges. “In an environment marked by department store closings and the boom of shopping centres, it’s essential to maintain a vibrant local bookstore scene,” said Kaspar Pflaum, manager of strategic marketing and events. Though the campaign does place an emphasis on bricks-and-mortar stores, it is not purely a “buy local” initiative and does not exclude online retailers or e-books.
It is still too soon to determine whether dedicated “buy local” programs in Germany will have a dramatic impact on the industry, the number of initiatives that have sprung up in recent years is hard to ignore. But organizers of the Vorsicht Buch! campaign do not plan to measure the success of their program in terms of sales alone. “Market developments are dependent on many external factors that can’t be influenced by one marketing campaign,” said Pflaum. Instead, the success of the campaign will be measured in terms of the extent of awareness for the campaign itself, for books in general, as well as an improvement in the image of the book.
The over 1,600 publisher, bookseller, and wholesaler members of the Börsenverein that have registered for the programme have access to a series of promotional materials, oversized book installations and more. Publishers and wholesalers can integrate the campaign into their own PR materials. One highlight on the campaign event calendar will be “the highest reading in the world”, which will take place in a plane en route from Frankfurt to Split on 5 September. To tie in with the event, participating bookstores will receive materials allowing their customers to participate in a raffle for up to 1,000 euros in travel vouchers. Additional events and promotions like this are being planned and will take place at regular intervals. Smaller, individual events can be organised at any time to tie in with the campaign.
Campaign materials can be acquired via an online shop, but as in the case of IndieBound, the initiative encourages booksellers to get creative with the materials.
The One with the Orange Squirrel — Germany
Another program was launched in Germany in 2012 that is, as the name suggests, specifically dedicated to the “buy local” movement. BUY LOCAL was created by bookseller Michael Riethmüller and has managed to attract more than 200 members in its first year from various retail industries — from clothing stores to opticians to pharmacies. Its logo — an orange squirrel — ties in with the idea that squirrels (and other animals) store their fodder in their own environment, some of which then grows into trees and plants that benefit everyone. In other words, the money stays here.
“According to a recent study by the Zukunftsinstitut, ‘local’ is the new ‘organic’,” said Ilona Schönle, managing director of the organisation, adding that people in Germany are starting to rethink how they make their purchases and to reflect on the origins of their food and other products. “BUY LOCAL is not against the Internet, but it calls for taking a responsible approach to buying online,” she said. Particularly troubling is the idea of “showrooming” — of taking advantage of local in-store recommendations and guidance, but then buying a product online where it’s a few euros cheaper.
“BUY LOCAL offers members the opportunity to be part of a powerful idea,” added Schönle. The organization lobbies on behalf of member companies, promotes them and raises awareness among consumers. It also awakens politicians and administration to the needs of local, owner-operated companies. Members also have access to a great deal of information and promotional materials, which they can then alter to meet their own needs — including posters, amusing postcards, tote bags, balloons and even squirrel-shaped gummy bears. To become a member of the BUY LOCAL club, a bookseller (or any other retailer or craftsman) submits a membership application, which the BUY LOCAL board then reviews to determine whether the applicant will be admitted.
The types of surveys on the impact of “buy local” initiatives that exist in the US have not yet been conducted in Germany, according to Schönle. “That’s because we haven’t reached the necessary critical mass of members or the name recognition, since the club has only been active for one year”. However, there is a great deal of interest from the media and the organization already has around 1500 followers on Facebook after one year. In addition, their short video, which attempts to explain the idea behind BUY LOCAL in fewer than three minutes, has already been viewed more than 10,000 times on YouTube in six months.
The key is building regional networks. “We also connect industries to each other nationwide through Facebook, for example, and regular member meetings,” said Schönle.
Letting the Customer Decide – Holland
The Stichting Collectieve Propaganda van het Nederlandse Boek (CPNB) is not specifically a “buy local” initiative. In fact, with its massive book promotion campaigns, the CPNB actually services more than 1400 bookstores nationwide — that’s close to 95% of the Dutch market. But its promotions do have a very positive impact on local independents. The goal of the CPNB is to raise awareness of the book as a leisure product – but to leave it up to the customer to decide where he or she makes the purchase.
“In doing so, we are servicing three parties — publishers, bookstores and public libraries,” said CPNB director Gijs Schunselaar. The CPNB organizes 25 to 30 campaigns every year, the highlight of which is Book Week, which has taken place every March since the 1930s. The extremely popular children’s spinoff of the event was launched in the 1950s. As part of the Book Week promotion, the CPNB commissions an author to write a short book that is given away for free to customers who spend at least €12.50 on a Dutch book. (Previous authors have included Cees Nooteboom and Salman Rushdie).
In recent years, print runs of the free book have exceeded 750,000 copies. Participating booksellers range from indies, small and large, to chains and online retailers. “A campaign that would benefit one party more than another, or damage the interest of another, would be a wrong campaign in our opinion,” added Schunselaar. “Our philosophy is that we should have it all on offer,” he said. At the end of the day, it’s the consumer deciding that he or she wants to buy local. But, Schunselaar adds, in the end, the success of the campaign is determined on a local level. “The success of the campaign nationwide depends on the local booksellers’ efforts to stand out from the crowd. It’s not enough to put a poster in the window and say it’s Book Week. You have to show that you’re an entrepreneur and that you provide value to your customers.”
A version of this article originally appeared on the blog of the Frankfurt Book Fair.