Book Business Extra Q&A: Meg Zelickson Smith of the American Booksellers Association talks about the impact of a new crop of independent sellers on the book industry.
Extra: How has the independent bookstore’s role in the bookselling process and in the industry changed in the last year or so?
Smith: What we have seen, especially with the advent of the Book Sense ad marketing program, is a higher consciousness among publishers large and small, and all their imprints, about the ... importance of independent bookstores.
Seven years ago, the ABA launched a national marketing program on behalf of independent bookstores, its called Book Sense, and the goal of it is to create higher consumer awareness of the value of independent bookstores. One of the pieces of it is our communications and our relationships with publishers, because the program is underwritten by publisher money. What they do is pledge—and I use that word very loosely because we don’t actual bill them—a certain amount of their marketing dollars for use among Book Sense stores, meaning the group of ABA members that belong to the Book Sense program.
Extra: How are new independents separating themselves from the competition?
Smith: ... It’s no secret that booksellers sell the same product, and it can be obtained in many, many different outlets. What they have in common is there’s this overwhelming sense of customer service and passion and knowledge, and that is communicated in the stores to their customers. There are some very specific things that people do. They run incredible events programs. There’s a kids’ store in Minneapolis called Wild Rumpus that has one of the most ambitious and creative events programs you’ll ever encounter, to the point where the owner, Colette Morgan, will bring a horse into the store for kids to experience that.
There are some other stores that are very well known for their events. Books & Books in Miami probably has a 360-night-a-year events program. Sometimes it’s in-store, sometimes it’s offsite. There are stores that provide just outstanding personal service. Yes, there are many stores that have specialties. They may be a kids’ bookstore, or a travel bookstore, or a science fiction store. There are many stores that will carry non-book items that really set them apart.