Matchbook Marketing, based in Black Mountain, North Carolina, is a marketing firm dedicated solely to independent bookstores, and offers marketing services including a print newsletter, custom store logos and branding, web development, and graphic design. CEO Gwyn Ridenhour told Bookselling This Week that the firm’s mission is simple: to help booksellers tell their story.
Before launching Matchbook Marketing, which is coming up on its fifth anniversary, Ridenhour worked as a children’s librarian. Her favorite part of the job, she said, was the opportunity to “hand-sell” books to kids, and her favorite children to work with were the ones who’d read everything and thought she couldn’t recommend them a book as well as the ones who hated reading and thought she’d never find a book they liked. “Those were the most fun challenges because I knew I could match the perfect book with that person,” said Ridenhour, “and that’s what booksellers do all the time.”
Her eventual transition into launching Matchbook Marketing was natural, she said, noting that she’d gained marketing experience through creating promotional material for her son, a professional musician, for a decade.
“I’ve loved promoting things that I feel really passionate about, and I often feel passionate about good books and making connections with people,” said Ridenhour. “The two loves naturally came together, and Matchbook came out of it.”
The foundation for Matchbook began when Ridenhour purchased a 12-page print newsletter template from Paz & Associates. From there, she made having conversations with booksellers a priority. She’d ask them many questions about what would be most helpful in promoting their stores, and she built the rest of her firm around what she found they needed most.
Website development, graphic design, and store logos were the main answers that came from those conversations. The firm also offers bookmarks, business cards, banners, and more. Ridenhour works with a team of four other people, including Gena Crow, Cindi Carrigan, Franklin Web, and Joey Akra, to provide these services.
The firm is currently working with about 65 stores around the country. To meet new clients, Ridenhour said that she attends workshops hosted by Paz & Associates, where she gets to know people who are planning to open a bookstore and uses the opportunity to build relationships from their very beginning of their journey as store owners; being with booksellers every step of the way, she added, is the best part of her job.
For a new store, Matchbook begins by creating a logo and branding, then a website. It primarily works with American Booksellers Association e-commerce platforms IndieCommerce or IndieLite to host the store’s website and provide e-commerce capabilities, but, Ridenhour said, the firm will also work with different hosts as well, depending on the bookseller’s needs.
Ridenhour noted that there’s a lot of tweaking and brainstorming that goes into the process of logo and web design, and each project can take between four and six weeks. “It depends on the seller, and every relationship is different,” she said. “Every job starts with a long conversation — and this is the part I love because of our tagline. To help someone tell their story, you have to listen to their story.”
During these conversations, Ridenhour will ask the bookseller why they’re involved in the industry, what makes bookselling special to them, and what they’re most excited about when they think of their store. Then, the two will discuss the visual aspects of logo and web design, including everything from color palettes to style and feel. “We focus on the feel of the store because that’s the image that we’re trying to help them create,” Ridenhour said.
From there, some booksellers will go on to do a print newsletter as part of their ongoing marketing. Popular with booksellers and supported by publisher co-op, the 12-page booklet features eight pages of 60 hand-selected titles; each title features an image of the cover, a short blurb, and highlights if the title has received stars from Publishers Weekly or Kirkus and if it is available on Libro.fm. The titles are selected by Ridenhour according to reviews and what indie booksellers are most excited about. The wrap-around — which includes the first and last two pages — is customized for each store.
The wrap-around is a place where stores can list their events and staff picks, Ridenhour said, and also brand the newsletter with their heading, logo, colors, and voice. There’s also an option to include a letter written by Ridenhour that is headed “Dear Book Lover.”
“I like to provide the tools for them, but they can be as creative as they want to be,” she said, noting that some stores even include coupons in their newsletter. “It’s a nice piece that’s meant to have a two-month shelf life. People take it home and they spend a lot of time with it...a lot of sellers tell me people bring in the newsletter marked up and highlighted and circled and say, ‘Tell me about this book, I want to find this one.’”
Moving forward, Matchbook is looking for ways to expand its services for booksellers. It’s currently working with the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance (SIBA) to promote the Southern Book Prizes. Overall, Ridenhour said, the firm’s goal for the future is to “always want to partner with people to make things effective, efficient, affordable, and creative.”
Booksellers who are interested in learning more or partnering with Matchbook Marketing can start the conversation here.