Could producing a podcast be beneficial for your bookstore? Jason Jefferies, the general manager at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, North Carolina, and host of the podcast Bookin’, moderated a discussion about the value of the popular medium at the 15th annual Winter Institute in Baltimore. Jefferies was joined by fellow podcast hosts Annie Jones, owner of The Bookshelf in Thomasville, Georgia; Layla Saad, author of Me and White Supremacy (Sourcebooks); and Alena Jones of the Seminary Co-op Bookstores in Chicago, Illinois. Logged-in booksellers can view the video from the session on BookWeb now.
Jefferies noted that his podcast was developed to complement the store’s vibrant author program, with visiting authors doing in-store signing events to boost sales. “We wanted a way to take advantage of this, and to be able to supplement our programming by talking to our interesting authors that came around, and then further, to sell a little bit more books,” he said.
Saad started working on her podcast even before she began writing her book. Good Ancestor Podcast was a reaction to the hopelessness she felt doing anti-racism work. It features conversations with people doing life-changing, world-changing work. Saad said, “I saw so many people, especially black people, indigenous people, people of color doing incredible work often not being represented in the same way that their white counterparts are represented. I wanted to create a space where we could have real and deep conversations, where their knowledge could be seen by everybody, where their humanity could be seen by everybody, and where we could talk about the work that they are doing as living ancestors right now, the influence of the ancestors that have come before them, and the legacy that they’re trying to create in the world.”
In contrast, Annie Jones focuses on small-town life. She doesn’t do many author interviews. From the Front Porch was created as a way to introduce herself to her new community when she took over the store seven years ago. “The original purpose was to have conversations on books, small business, and life in the south,” Jones said. The podcast has evolved over the years with different staffers co-hosting as well as through “cross-pollination” with other podcasts, namely Anne Bogel’s What Should I Read Next? and The Popcast. Added Jones, “The purpose is to provide the same atmosphere and conversation and warmth that I hope you get when you walk into our store.”
The Seminary Co-op Bookstores, on the other hand, host over 600 events a year between two stores as well as off-site across Chicago. Open Stacks Podcast started because a large community of customers who had moved away heard about the events and emailed to inquire about them. Alena Jones and her team started recording and disseminating them in podcast form. The content has evolved to focus on talks with booksellers, bookselling culture, and an attempt to recreate the browsing experience.
Because the podcasts have different approaches, each panelist discussed different methods for choosing content. Jefferies pores over his store’s event schedule to see what authors will be visiting. He also researches books being published that he wants to read and calls the publishers to ask if he can interview the author.
Since Annie Jones doesn’t get a lot of author visits, she bases the podcast on conversations she and the staff are having in the store. For example, the latest episode is about their “obsession with Greta Gerwig’s Little Women.” The most popular episodes are reading recaps. The goal is for people to then purchase books from their online store.
Saad’s content is entirely interviews, which often originate from people she’s met through Instagram. She finds social media is a good resource to discover social justice activists, educators, and authors. Alena Jones relies on her stores’ events, though finding the best 15 to 20 minute excerpt can be a challenge. Many events feature scholarly authors, so the goal is to find the most accessible part of the talk. Oftentimes, she’ll pair two events with diverging perspectives on the same topic together in the same podcast. “It’s finding the same topic popping up in different areas of the bookselling world,” she said.
While the hosts agreed that their goals for the podcasts have been more cultural than financial, they did recognize the income potential. Saad is looking into monetizing her podcast now. Jefferies’ podcast increases sales of signed-book copies from author events, money that supplements the cost of the events themselves. As Annie Jones said, “The podcast is a way to expand the boundaries and to expand the reach of The Bookshelf.” Seventy-five percent of her online sales come from podcast listeners. And as Alena Jones pointed out, it can get people excited about backlist titles, too.
Recommended tools to produce, edit, and distribute podcasts:
Bookin’ with Jason Jefferies
Equipment: Zoom H4n Pro recorder, Shure SM58 microphones
Editing: Garage Band
Open Stacks Podcast
Equipment: Zoom H5 recorder, Rode directional microphone
Good Ancestor Podcast
Equipment: Zoom recorder, Blue Yeti microphone, laptop
Editing: Podcast Engineers
From the Front Porch
Equipment: Garage Band (recording), Yeti microphone, laptop
Editing: Studio D Podcast Productions
Distribution: Libsyn and fromthefrontporchpodcast.com