Marketing Meetup Recap: Making the Most of Co-op Advertising

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The latest Marketing Meetup hosted by the American Booksellers Association covered cooperative advertising, also known as “co-op,” which refers to a publisher-defined program in which booksellers promote a publisher’s book or books according to mutual priorities in exchange for credit. Co-op promotions can focus on direct purchases, indirect purchase, newsletters, events, displays, and more.

The November 8 Marketing Meetup — one of the biweekly online video conferences hosted by ABA on — featured tips from Kelly Justice of Fountain Bookstore in Richmond, Virginia; Suzanna Hermans of Oblong Books & Music in Millerton and Rhinebeck, New York; and Gwyn Ridenhour of Matchbook Marketing.

During the meetup, the guest speakers discussed how they participate in co-op programs and the ways in which co-op funding can be used toward marketing books.

Oblong Books & Music

Oblong Books & Music used to outsource the handling of its co-op, said Hermans, but moved back to an in-house system once publishers started to offer automatic co-op credits.

“I’ve built a system for myself that is doable for me,” said Hermans, adding that whether stores are doing it themselves or hiring another company to handle it, what matters is that they are somehow taking advantage of co-op opportunities. Currently, Hermans spends about 60 to 90 minutes on co-op each month.

For booksellers looking to handle co-op themselves, Hermans recommended compiling the information for each publisher in one place. She has a file on Google Drive that she calls her “co-op bible,” where she stores the policies from every publisher that still offers manual co-op as well as her pools of credit.

“I know exactly what the policies are for every publisher, I know how they want their co-op claimed, and I keep that in one place,” she said. “I also have a separate spreadsheet with different tabs for each of those publishers where I can actually track what I’ve submitted and how much is left in my pools, [as well as] an events co-op sheet where I track every single event that we do, and I have a column where I make sure that I actually received the credits for that event.”

Certain publishers have made changes to simplify the process, Hermans added. Workman has set up a webform through which booksellers can request co-op, and Ingram/Consortium has created a webform to request co-op from certain presses. Because of this, she’s had a lot of success in accessing co-op from presses that she had never attempted to work with before.

While Hermans’ method is thorough, it can also be time-consuming. Because of this, she recommends booksellers wait until after the holiday season to make a co-op bible of their own.

“In January, you can start building this up for yourself. You won’t know what your pools are like until March or April, but you’ll have an infrastructure in place. You can pop that number on the top of your Google Sheet and just start claiming as soon as you know what those claims will be,” she said.

“My goal is always to use my pools up as fast as possible,” she added. “I find that the faster I use my co-op up, the less stressed I am at the end of the year trying to use that money during the holiday season.”

Fountain Bookstore and Matchbook Marketing

In favor of spending more time on other aspects of her store, Kelly Justice opted to turn the handling of co-op over to Julia Dammier from Candlelight Co-op instead.

“Prior to doing that, we were collecting virtually no co-op because I would get frustrated with all the different policies and minimums of every single vendor,” Justice said. “I just couldn’t handle it. I would mean to do it, and I just wouldn’t. Thousands of dollars were going out the window each year.”

Since the store began using Candlelight Co-op last year, Fountain Bookstore has recovered thousands of dollars in co-op. This money is put toward a bi-monthly print newsletter, bookmarks, pre-order campaigns, and more.

Fountain Bookstore works with Gwyn Ridenhour of Matchbook Marketing to create the print newsletter. While Ridenhour does not handle claims directly, she does keep track of the co-op that’s available to Fountain Bookstore to ensure that there is enough funding to fully cover the production cost of the newsletter for the entire year.

“Like Suzanna, I have a Google spreadsheet where I list all of the publishers with co-op. I track how many books I have under each co-op policy for each of our six yearly issues, so we don’t spend it all on one,” Ridenhour said.

Booksellers who would like to participate in the next 30-minute Marketing Meetup, which will focus on marketing audiobooks, can send an invite request to ABA’s Phil Davies. All ABA members are invited to join. Meetups are held at 11:00 a.m. EST on two Thursdays a month.