The latest marketing roundtable hosted by the American Booksellers Association featured a group of booksellers who host literary podcasts.
The August 23 roundtable — one of the biweekly online video conferences hosted by ABA on Zoom.us — featured tips from Annie Jones of The Bookshelf in Thomasville, Georgia; Arsen Kashkashian of Boulder Book Store in Boulder, Colorado; and Colin McDonald and Jeff Deutsch of The Seminary Co-op and 57th Street Books in Chicago, Illinois.
During the roundtable, each bookseller discussed why they decided to launch literary podcasts, partnerships they have developed, and how their podcasts have driven publicity and sales.
The Bookshelf: From the Front Porch
Owner Annie Jones and bookseller Chris Jensen co-host The Bookshelf’s From the Front Porch, a podcast that integrates the quirky, small-town charm of Thomasville, Georgia, with discussions of life in small-business retail, books, and all things Southern.
To break into the podcast community, Jones and Jensen appeared on Anne Bogel’s podcast What Should I Read Next as well as Knox McCoy and Jamie Golden’s The Popcast. Once the co-hosts saw a growth in listeners, they decided to launch a Patreon membership platform to gain financial support.
From the Front Porch has since connected long-distance readers to The Bookshelf in ways that in-store programming alone is not able to do. Listeners can provide feedback on episodes to Jones and Jensen through online surveys, donate to The Bookshelf’s Patreon, and sign up for a monthly book subscription service. Jones said that 75 percent of the revenue from the store’s subscription service comes from podcast listeners.
“It took a long time for the podcast to start bringing in revenue for us...We primarily use it as a marketing tool, as a way to connect with long-distance fans, followers, fellow readers,” said Jones.
“A lot of folks who never would have heard of us before follow us on Instagram and buy books online from us,” she added, noting that the store’s online customers are just as valuable as supporters in the local community. “They never would’ve done that without the podcast.”
Boulder Book Store: KGNU and Boulder Book Store Radio Book Club
Arsen Kashkashian, head buyer at Boulder Book Store, partners with Maeve Conron, news director at KGNU Community Radio, to host monthly 30-minute live interviews with authors whose books have been chosen for The Boulder Book Store Radio Book Club. Previous authors include Rebecca Makkai, Tayari Jones, and Finn Murphy. Kashkashian also co-hosts an additional podcast, After Hours at the Radio Book Club, which features material that did not make into the original interview.
For After Hours, the production and editorial process is slightly different from other literary podcasts. Since the material is adapted from live interviews, KGNU tries to make as few edits as possible.
“Because it’s a podcast, we feel that there is some ability to be casual,” Kashkashian said. “Our ethic on the podcast is that it is a conversation, it is sometimes goofy. We want to try to make it as live as we can, so we don’t edit out for verbal tics or anything like that.”
Collaborating with KGNU has offered Boulder Book Store a wealth of benefits. Kashkashian noted that the station handles editing and sound equipment, which allows him to focus on planning with authors and co-conducting the interview.
The strong working relationship Boulder Book Store has with KGNU has also helped the store to garner publicity. “As we’ve developed this relationship, I now send them the events schedule for the upcoming month, and invariably they want to get in contact with three or four of those people and do interviews that have nothing to do with my show,” Kashkashian said, adding that the radio station will often mention authors who will be visiting Boulder Book Store. “We’re on the air much, much more now that I’ve started this partnership with [KGNU].”
The Seminary Co-Op and 57th Street Books: Open Stacks
Colin McDonald and Jeff Deutsch of the Seminary Co-Op and 57th Street Books co-host Open Stacks, a “book-forward” weekly show that contributes to a larger conversation about books and how they relate to the world.
The entire production and editorial process for the podcast happens in-store. Events and conversations are recorded weekly and selected to run on the podcast at a later date. Similar to Kashkashian’s podcast, McDonald and Deutsch sought a more casual atmosphere that included the sounds of customers and a cash register as the backdrop for their conversations, as it reminds listeners that the podcast is being recorded in a bookstore.
To capture high-quality audio for their podcast, McDonald recommended that booksellers use Zoom microphones combined with a standalone microphone hooked up to a PA system to get as close to each speaker as possible.
While each episode is mainly about books, McDonald also works to incorporate conversations about currents events and history. “We did an episode on a book called Gentrifier by John Joe Schlichtman, Jason Patch, and Marc Lamont Hill (University of Toronto Press), which is about gentrification. We listened to the authors of that book talk about their book and the topic, but then we spoke with the South Side community organizer who was talking about the incoming [Obama Presidential Center] to see how gentrification really speaks to and affects our community,” said McDonald.
“We’re trying to capture more of the dynamic life of what a bookstore is, what it feels and sounds like,” added McDonald. “So, I’m willing to talk about anything.”
Booksellers who are interested in learning how to create their own podcast should check out a free online course from the Knight Center at the University of Texas at Austin titled “Listen up! How to Launch and Grow a Hit Podcast.”
Booksellers who would like to participate in an upcoming 30-minute marketing roundtable video conference, which are held at 11:00 a.m. EST on two Thursdays a month, can send an invite request to ABA’s Phil Davies. All ABA members are invited to join.