Friday, February 6, 2009

On Independent Bookstores and blogs

If you are an independent bookseller reading this post, let me say that I don't think there is any greater proponent of the independent store than David R. Godine. He treats them all — every store, every buyer, every quirk and oddity — like a big extended family. If you've received one of his many thank you cards or other hand-written notes, or if you have been nicknamed in some way, then you probably understand. If you're in New England and he's never visited you personally — he handles our sales for this area — do call the office, and we'll set up an appointment: he's usually more than happy to stop by, show you our books, and chat about the book world. Independents have always been the cornerstone of this company, and I think many small publishers feel, as we certainly do, that as you go, we go too.

At this year's ABA Winter Institute, Patrick from Vroman's Bookstore reports, 'Bob Miller [of HarperStudio] was adamant that booksellers needed to be leveraging their roles as tastemakers through blogging, vlogging, podcasting, and using social media. Entrekin [of Grove / Atlantic] seconded that notion, with the statement that "Every bookseller needs to have a blog."' Patrick later writes, 'the digital world is built on relationships, just like the non-digital world. If you want people to take an interest in you, it helps to take in interest in them. This can be hard for people used to thinking of media as a one-way broadcast. Twitter, blogs, and the like must be about dialog if they are to be successful. And that takes time.'

I completely agree, and believe David would say the same thing. The internet is not an oddity or something that businesses can choose to ignore anymore, it's as important as customer service and stocking the shelves. I think many booksellers might be uncomfortable with the idea of being a 'tastemaker,' as Miller and others have phrased it, and that's a reasonable concern. But there's a humbler, more down to earth way of thinking about what blogs do, and Patrick hits on that: buying a book is an act of trust — in the author, the publisher, and the bookseller — and anything you can do to build a relationship with customers will help build that trust.

In hard times especially, people want to feel reasonably sure they're putting their money to good use. The better a person feels that they know a bookseller's tastes, breadth of knowledge, and character, the more inclined they'll be to trust that store's choices and recommendations. Blogs and other online spaces are perhaps the best way to do that; they're the twenty-first century version of the block party, the pub, the dinner party, the diner. The internet isn't like beaming a signal out of a radio tower, or even publishing a newsletter; it's a big group conversation, where acquaintances spread gossip and news, recommend books, and tell jokes — but you have to speak up to join in.

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