Responding to the Borders Liquidation: An Action Kit

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    When news of the first 200 Borders closings hit this past winter, many indie booksellers immediately reached out to current customers and connected with new ones. With this week’s announcement of the impending liquidation of the remaining Borders stores, there is a new wave of opportunities to let everyone know that local indies are alive, well, and very much open for business, both in-store and online. To help booksellers in this fluid market, here’s an action kit of marketing ideas and strategies used successfully by several ABA members.

    Community Forums

    Hold a community discussion about the state of the industry and what kinds of programs, events, titles, and services customers would like to see at their local indie.

    Several bookstores, including R.J. Julia Booksellers in Madison, Connecticut; Diesel, A Bookstore in Oakland, California; and Northshire Bookstore in Manchester Center, Vermont, have held community discussions about the recent and dramatic changes in the book industry, including the Borders closings and the growing popularity of e-books.

    R.J. Julia owner Roxanne Coady proposed “a series of conversations, in person and online” to explore the questions: “What new service might be helpful? What educational courses? What online capability? What merchandise?”  and more. The first two informal gatherings, which drew more than 25 people each, provided insights on areas for improvement and future development.

    Diesel’s “community dialogue about the worth, and the future, of independent bookstores” turned into one of those “special, magical events independent bookstores somehow catalyze, where everyone is so intelligently and fully present and listening to each other,” co-owner John Evans said.

    And at Northshire, a March gathering, which drew about 100 customers, led store owner Chris Morrow to “realize how important it is to engage our customers in the process of evolving. They care. They want to be involved. They appreciated the opportunity to talk about the future of the store in an open forum.”

    “We’re Still Here” Ads

    Announce your presence and your commitment to the community.

    When Borders announced its first round of closures, the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association (NCIBA) placed a half-page ad representing association bookstores in the San Francisco Chronicle with the reminder to consumers that “We’re Still Here.” The ad reached one million readers, said Hut Landon, NCIBA executive director, and the response was “unbelievable.”

    Several weeks later, a group of San Francisco booksellers pooled resources for a second ad, this time in the Bay Guardian.

    And in Missouri, Left Bank Books, Pudd’nhead Books, Subterranean Books, Main Street Books, and The Book House formed the St. Louis Independent Bookstore Alliance to help raise awareness of their stores and their unique contributions to their local communities. They sent out press releases, created a website, and a Facebook page.

    Booksellers can pool resources (and will not run afoul of the Robinson-Patman Act) to buy “We’re Still Here” newspaper ads that, along with announcing their presence in the neighborhood, offer a promotional discount, as long as no specific titles are mentioned and no prices are stated.

    ABA has created a series of “We’re Still Here” templated ads that can be customized with store name, address, and more information.

    Business to Business: Author Tours

    Reach out to publicity departments to host authors.

    With so many venues for author tours closing, it’s a good time to proactively contact publicity departments with your proposal for accommodating events. Here’s an ABA education handout on Creating Killer Events. For more ideas check out the Publicity Section of the Curriculum Guide on BookWeb.org, which includes handouts “Be the Story,” “Sample Press Kit,” and “Bookstore Publicity Kit.”

    Welcome back! Member Rewards Cards and Book Groups

    Market or institute a loyalty program that recognizes Borders membership cards and/or gift cards and book clubs.

    In the wake of a local Borders closing this past winter, Washington, D.C.’s Politics and Prose extended a “special, limited-time opportunity to booklovers in our area in the hope that they might discover a new home with us.” Borders customers were invited to exchange their Borders Rewards card, for a three-month P&P membership, which entitled them to discounts on bestsellers, author event titles, and the March Storewide Member sale. (A one-year P&P membership usually costs $25.)

    In Pasadena, California, Vroman’s offered 200 former Borders customers the chance to turn in their Borders Member Awards card for a $20 Vroman’s Gift Card and the option of signing up for the store’s e-newsletter and the Vroman’s Gives Back program. “We announced the promotion every time the press interviewed us about the Borders bankruptcy, so we got great publicity on the television news – multiple channels, for a few days!” Allison Hill, president and COO of Vroman’s, told BTW.

    Don’t forget to promote store book clubs and book club discounts to any bookstore-less book clubs.

    Internal Strategies

    Hold staff meetings to brainstorm responses to Borders closings.

    In February, in the wake of the first Borders closings, with the input of Bookshop Santa Cruz staff, owner Casey Coonerty Protti developed the first stage of the California indie’s response:

    • Highlight discounted bestsellers and offer a few special discounts to the public just after the local Borders closes to remind people that you can get deals at Bookshop Santa Cruz and not just the big box chains or online. In addition, we are going to focus on publicizing remainder titles more than before.
    • Immediately increase magazine draws and bolster inventory in certain sections where we might see immediate results (like travel).
    • Expand YA section to draw in customers that were enticed by Borders’ expanded section.
    • Advertise in new outlets.
    • Create renewed focus on our customer service. People are going to choose to come to us instead of Amazon only if we create the most friendly and enticing experience in our store.

    E-Books

    Promote Google eBooks™  in-store, on the store website, and via QR codes.

    • To promote e-book sales in stores, some booksellers are using belly bands on display books, and adapting Google eBooks bookmarks. Also, remind customers that they can buy Google eBooks in your store e-mail blasts and e-newsletters.
    • Many bookstores, including Rainy Day Books in Fairway, Kansas, feature the Google eBooks logo on its homepage, along with links to learn more about, and to search for, Google eBooks.
    • Kepler’s Books in Menlo Park, California, has a Bestselling Google EBooks – Download Now! banner front and center on their website. They also have a prominent link to an e-book tutorial.
    • Pete Mulvihill of Green Apple Books adds a QR code to certain shelf-talkers to pitch Google eBooks. Green Apple made a template, then just used a free online QR code generator to create the code that brings anyone with an iPhone or other QR reader directly to that item on their website. The QR code is basically a scannable link to a website.
    • Visit IndieCommerce.com for Google eBooks marketing materials and a Google eBooks “how-to” flier.
    • For stores that are not signed up for IndieCommerce, Google just launched their Google eBooks™ Affiliate Program. Retailers, publishers, bloggers, and other website owners can link to hundreds of thousands of titles in the Google eBookstore and earn a commission for referring sales. To get started, an affiliate partner must join Google Ad Sense and the Google Affiliate Network and be approved. More information and step-by-step sign-up instructions for retailers are detailed on the Google eBooks Partner Help Center.

    New Customers, New Inventory

    Ask frontline booksellers to note any new trends in requests. Prepare to augment/reconsider sections.

    In markets where Borders have already closed, some booksellers are reporting increased sales. Some of those sales are from new customers who want titles not typically carried by the store. Be sure that frontline booksellers are welcoming these new customers, noting their interests, and communicating this information about possible additions to inventory and customer service to either the store owners or managers.

    Hello Manga.

    Borders had earned a reputation for carrying a wide variety of manga, including titles aimed at more mature readers. Draw manga fans with a manga sale, display, or event. Here’s the June Indie Comics & Graphic Works Bestseller List. And here are bookseller recommended links: ICv2, a site that tracks sales of anime and manga, graphic novels and comics, games, toys, and movies; and The Comics Journal.