Thursday, March 24, 2011

In Defense of the Bookstore: Lindsey at Village Books

Lindsey McGuirk began her career in books as the Events Coordinator for Village Books in Bellingham, WA. She took a two year stint at Algonquin Books in North Carolina, where she learned about the publishing end of the business, but returned to her true love of bookselling at Village Books in 2009. She is now the Digital Marketing & Publishing Coordinator and handles the online marketing and working with authors to get their books printed on the store's print-on-demand Espresso Book Machine.

These days we all talk. A lot. But not necessarily in the ways we used to—face-to-face, letters, phone calls. Now it’s emails and texts and IM’s and Facebook and Twitter and whatever else our ever-typing fingers desire. Caught somewhere in the middle of online communication are brick and mortar stores who still rely on that face-to-face interaction with customers, but know that their customers are spending much of their time on the internet. So how do those businesses reach those customers? By heading to the internet.

I wasn’t too interested in online marketing until a diehard online marketer and former co-worker at Algonquin Books opened my eyes to not only the possibilities, but also the fun of connecting with customers via the web. She shared much sage advice and when I moved back to Bellingham to restart my gig at Village Books, I was equipped with a great deal of online marketing know-how.

When I came back to Village Books, I was hired on as the (get ready for it) Digital Marketing & Publishing Manager. It’s one of those titles that requires an explanation. I handle the online marketing (Facebook, Twitter, VB’s website & blog) and work with self-publishing authors who want to have their books printed on our print-on-demand Espresso Book Machine.

Facebook and Twitter have opened up doors to staying relevant as a small, independent business. You may or may not have heard the rumor, but apparently books are dead. Being a, um, bookstore, that’s a bit disheartening to hear. Yet you rarely hear that from folks actually in the book business. Not because we’re in denial, but because we just don’t see it. And one of the ways we know people are still loving books are from the conversations we have through our Facebook page and Twitter feed.

In a year and a half, we’ve gone from 600 “fans” on Facebook to more than 3,500 and from 400 “followers” on Twitter to more than 2,700. Taking into consideration that many of our fans on Facebook are some of the same folks following us on Twitter, we’re still reaching at least 4,000 people through these online streams. We’re having a sale? With one click we’ve just spread the word to thousands of people. We’re doing a giveaway? One click lets thousands of people know about it. And what I love about these means of social marketing is that these people have chosen to listen to our messages—they’ve decided they like us enough that they want to hear what we’re saying on Facebook and Twitter.

Probably one of my favorite perks to social media is we don’t have to be stodgy in our messages. We can have the personality that traditional marketing may not afford due to space availability and cost. Village Books has always allowed itself to have personality, which is a huge perk of an independent business, but these other venues give us yet another way to show our goofier side. It’s almost as though we’re letting our hair down and yelling, “Yes! We know we’ve been curators of free speech and intellectual thought for years! But look, we’re wacky too!”

So yeah, social media lets us keep in touch with our customers in a new way and lets us show our wild side, but is it going to keep us alive? Well, no. Ultimately our customers are going to keep us alive. But social media helps us stay even more connected with them.

Now, going back to that nasty rumor about bookstores dying. We’re not dying, but we have to change. Being a bricks and mortar store in a world where online shopping is becoming prevalent brings new challenges. Being a bricks and mortar bookstore that sells physical books when e-books are growing in popularity brings about even more challenges. But these are challenges, not defeat. People are shopping online? We make sure to have an e-commerce site. People are moving toward e-books? We make sure they can buy them through us.

These changes can’t be taken on alone, so fortunately independent bookstores in the U.S. have the American Booksellers Association (and each other) fighting the good fight. The ABA does things like make sure independent bookstore members have the websites that can handle e-commerce, that all online retailers are subjected to the same laws and, most importantly right now, that independent bookstores make a profit on e-books. These are huge strides in keeping indies alive.

I’m not fooling myself into thinking that bookstores are impervious to all the changes that are happening. I know there are very real struggles going on every day. But with constant vigilance of the changing structure of bookselling, as well as the recent surge in consumers’ awareness of the importance of keeping money local, independent bookstores certainly have a fighting chance.

1 comment:

@kalenski said...

A store showing its "wild side" is one thing, but there are some on Twitter in particular who are just insulting. They do not do indie booksellers any favors and I'd love to see more indie booksellers call out their colleagues on their behavior. Thankfully, I can (and have) click the Unfollow button and continue to enjoy engaging with stores such as Village, Tattered Cover, and Word who understand how to use social media and don't insult their customers--or potential customers.