Free Ways to Sell More Books

books_money_crop380wMoney, money, money. It all comes down to money, right?

I’m happy to report that, still high from the great news coming from the Winter Institute this Spring, I don’t think that independent bookstores are a dying breed. There’s still little question, however, that money is tight in this economy – especially for retailers. Frequently, money for advertising and other outreach programs is the first think to come off the budget. In the short term, it might look like it makes sense – things that don’t show a super-obvious return on investment get excised. On the other hand, there’s something to be said for the old rule of “location, location, location.” A lot of getting customers through the door comes down to making sure they know you’re there and invested in the community.

This list is an attempt to clue booksellers in on some of the things they can take advantage of – online and off – to reach out to customers. Since the economist in me is avoiding sticky topics like opportunity costs and the fact that a little bit of time needs to be invested in each of these things, they are essentially free.

That’s right, free.

Check out a few of the ways that your store can reach out to your customers, online and off. Hey, I’ve even provided examples you can follow if you’re interested! What have you got to lose?

Cost: $0.00
Good Examples; Better World Books, Word Brooklyn, the Harvard Book Store

I’ve written before about how to take advantage of Twitter to connect with your community. The micro-blogging social network gives you a chance to talk directly with your customers. Recommend books, talk about the books you’re excited about, link to book news – Twitter is at it’s best when you’re fostering conversation, and you can do everything from take special orders to broadcast live from events using the service.


Cost: $0.00
Good Examples;  Inkwell Bookstore, Liberty Bay Books, Coast City Comics

If you don’t think you can fit what you want to say into 140 characters on Twitter, start writing a blog for your store. If you want to set up a dedicated URL for your store blog (say,, you will have to spend a few bucks on a domain name and hosting. If your store already has a website you can put the blog on, or if you don’t mind being hosted somewhere like Tumblr, WordPress, or Blogger, a blog is absolutely free. Give your staff a chance to write about their favorite books, discuss what it’s like working in a book store, or hype upcoming events. Or, dedicate one person to blogging and have a single strong voice for your store online.


Cost: $0.00 (~80.00 if you don’t have a camera yet)
Good Examples; Vroman’s, Green Apple Books, Skylight Books

In his business book Crush It, Gary Vaynerchuk asked why there are so few people online doing video book reviews. FILL THIS HOLE. Giving video reviews or recommendations puts a human face on your store online, and distinguishes your store from most book blogs and websites on the internet. Cameras like the Flip HD or Kodak Zi8 are relatively cheap (less than 100 bucks), come with free editing software, and shoot in beautiful high definition. The most popular video sharing sites online – YouTube, Viddler and Vimeo – let you post your movies for absolutely free. Cool services like uStream also allow for live broadcasting and chatting – why not put your best bookseller on for a few minutes and have them recommend books to your fans?


Yelp / Google Maps Reviews
Cost: $0.00

Websites like Yelp and Google Maps Reviews allow you to see exactly what people are saying about your store – good and bad – as well as what comes up when your store is Googled. Don’t do anything silly like post positive reviews of your own store. DON’T DO IT. People will see right through it. DO thank kind reviewers and see what you can improve based on complaints. Take advantage of the candidness people use when reviewing online. Years ago, businesses would have paid big bucks to hear, unfiltered, exactly what consumers think of their business. Now, it’s all free and all at your fingertips.


Creative Displays
Cost: $0.00
Good Examples; Tattered Cover, Northshire Books

Customers shop with their eyes – a number of studies have shown that people in a store are more enticed by displays and recommendations than discounts. Shelftalkers mean your booksellers can handsell to customers even if they have the day off. If you can catch someone’s eyes with a display and make them pick up a book, they’re that much closer to reading it than when they pass an aisle of all spine-out titles.


Cost: $0.00 with co-op

Just in case you’re worried people will forget where they should go to get their books, a bookmark ensures they’ll think of your store every time they open (or close) their book.


Good Customer Service
Cost: $0.00
Good Examples; A lot of indie bookstores, although it should be all of them.

I’ve harped on this before, but let me reiterate one more time – even with people used to shopping with faceless corporations or without leaving their houses, customer service is still hugely important. In his book Pursuit of Wow, Tom Peters notes that a hefty “70% of customers [that went elsewhere] hit the road not because of price or product quality issues, but because they did not like the human side of doing business with the provider.” Good, friendly customer service is free, and it’s too important to not make it a priority.


Local Partnerships
Cost: $0.00
Good Examples; Powell’s Books, RiverRun Bookstore

One of the coolest promotions I’ve heard about recently was when Powell’s teamed up with Bridgeport Brewing; if you spent $30 at the bookstore, you got a free pint glass and a coupon for a 1.25 pint at the bar. As for RiverRun, their events schedule is jam-packed with events at local business or with local partners. Partnering with other businesses gets people who might have never stopped in your store through the door, and reminds people that shop down the street that there’s a bookstore right down the block.


Cost: $0.00
Good Examples; Breathe Books, Middlebury College Bookstore

I’ll let Bob Jansen of the Middlebury College Bookstore explain how Facebook has changed their store;

“Our Facebook Fans Page represents a paradigm shift in how we do business. Instead of having customers we have fans and friends. Instead of traditional advertising and publicity alone, we focus on creating events and groups. We network; we listen; we respond; we have conversations with those we want to engage; we seriously consider the ideas and concerns of our fans and friends.”

With a Facebook page for your store, you can advertise to your fans (yes, you have fans!), collect RSVPs for events, have cool contests and help to grow a passionate community around your bookstore – and did I mention that it was free?


Cost: $0.00

A simple oldie-but-goodie. A digital or paper newsletter for your customers keeps them informed of what’s going on at the store, what’s for sale, and what books you’re just dying for them to check out. The fact that they sign up for the newsletter means that the information is going to people that want to receive it. And an email newsletter is, oh yeah, free.

…what else?


2 responses to “Free Ways to Sell More Books

  1. Insanely simple tips, that have worked in numerous retail settings. It amazes me that people seem relegated to “we hope things will turn around.” Great read, sir.

  2. Wow, great advice, you do get it the social networking thing. Follow me Josh @inmybook and on my fb fan page

    Do you have any Old Fart English ale? Great stuff…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s