That’s right, this is extra credit, because I know that in a room of booksellers, at least half are the kid for whom the phrase “extra credit” sends a shiver up the spine.
As you’ll see in my latest Shelf Awareness column, I interviewed Fraser Kelton of Glue in order to write my article. Unfortunately, some of his thoughtful responses to my questions didn’t make the column; I ended up taking it in a different direction than I had anticipated. But I think they offer some interesting perspectives for indie booksellers to consider. This is a good guy to listen to—he’s smart about technology, he loves books, has been nothing but committed to helping indie stores out, and even has a favorite bookstore (Bryan Prince Books). If you live in NYC, I recommend checking out the Publishing Meets Tech Meetups that he organizes.
Bookavore: In what ways do you think independent booksellers could use technology to improve their business?
Fraser: I’m anything but an expert here, but I’ll toss out two ideas:
1) Use technology to create and nurture community. I bet that a major source of business is the offline community that an independent bookseller nurtures and grows. Technology enables independent booksellers to do this on a larger level online. The web is wonderfully efficient and effective for creating and maintaining relationships. These relationships could be with individuals who already frequent the bookstore (strengthening current connections) or they could be with someone hundreds of miles away (creating new connections). The past 5 years has seen an explosion in online social tools that enable one to tap into and join the conversation and it would be great to see independent booksellers embrace these tools.
2) Focus on providing the best experience possible for an individual. A single website will never be the sole resource for individuals interested in books. Even if the majority of people buy from a single online retailer we read reviews on other sites, check out what our friends are reading on various book social networks, etc. Our book experience online spans multiple sites and it’s naive to think that an independent bookseller will ever be THE site for books. With this in mind, I’d love to see independent booksellers embrace this idea and focus on providing the best experience for the individual. Link to other sites. Even competitors. Even Amazon. The better the experience provided, the more likely I am to return to the site. If I knew that an independent bookseller provided links to the best resources online for books I’d most likely continue to visit the site and with time I bet I’d start to transact through them as well.
B: What are the two or three things that you think all bookstores, indie or not, should be including on their websites?
F: 1) Answer the “What Book Should I Read Next?” question.
Offline, indie booksellers provide value by providing recommendations and curating content. By asking a few questions about previous books enjoyed they can provide a patron with personalized suggestions. An independent bookseller can use their relatively small online presence, when compared to Amazon, as a strategic advantage – they can provide these personalized suggestions online. Have a user fill out a quick form and then provide them with a short list of personalized suggestions within a stated period of time (say, 1 hour). This is a great way to build a permission marketing list and to engage directly with a broad base of potential customers. You should be so lucky that the service becomes so popular that you can barely keep up with requests.
2) Enable the community to curate and edit the book pages.
I want a single place that makes it easy to access the best resources online for a specific book. I want to read reviews from book bloggers, browse critic reviews, access summaries, browse inside the book, etc. There’s currently no aggregated page to easily access all of this information. An independent bookseller should publish book pages that are editable by their community. Imagine a blogger being able to add a direct link to their review, or an avid reader linking to a particularly insightful review from the local newspaper’s site. These actions would create a vibrant site and further strengthen the community. The indie bookseller would then become a go-to resource for all things book related. Google has become the dominant company on the web by directing people off of their site and landing them on information that’s most useful. I’d love to see an indie bookseller take this same approach to the book vertical.
What do you think?