In the 1998 rom-com, You’ve Got Mail, Tom Hanks’ character’s mega bookstore chain stomps out Meg Ryan’s indie book shop. If only the downslide of the local bookstore industry was that heart-warming.
In reality, the millennium summoned the rise of the mighty retailers and the mom and pop bookstore’s decline. The nail in the coffin? Amazon and ebooks. Fortunately, all it takes to start a fire is a small ember, and local brick-and-mortar booksellers are still aglow.
Thanks to smart marketing strategies and diehard loyalists, local bookstores have reinvented themselves despite drastic tech advances.
While there are many reasons for this pendulum shift, it’s hard to ignore the one advantage the indie bookstore David has over the mega-chain Goliath: heart.
Preface: The Fall and Rise of The Local Bookstore
Even giants lose their footing in this new, tech-driven landscape, as proven by the shaky ground upon which Barnes & Noble found itself in 2019.
But the tides are turning again, only this time, it’s in favor of the little guys who’ve proved that grit and perseverance pay off.
Try as they might, mega-chains simply don’t have the infatuating je ne sais quoi of indie bookstores.
Still, you need customers to walk through your doors, purchase goods, crack open a book, and stay awhile.
Ready to shine the light on your neighborhood shop? Follow the outline below to learn seven marketing tools to promote your bookstore.
Chapter 1: Create Custom, Branded Bookmarks
Bookmarks are simply a way to save a page in a book. But to an indie bookstore? They’re a chance to market your store with a branded souvenir that sticks in people’s minds.
An effective bookmark includes
- High-quality cardstock that’ll hold up against coffee stains and smudges.
- Your store’s address, hours, and website link.
- Social media handles.
- A professional logo and on-brand design that echoes the look and feel of your store.
How can you get your hands on a custom bookmark without breaking the bank? No need to hire a graphic designer with PosterMyWall’s professionally designed bookmark templates.
Simply choose a design you like, open the editor, and quickly fill in your details. From there, you can customize fonts, colors, and imagery to match your store’s branding. Then, download your design and send it to the printer.
Line your register with the bookmarks, or give them as a gift to paying customers. Chances are, they’ll be back!
Chapter 2: Rebrand Your Bookstore with Strong Visuals
If you want your bookstore to stand out, you’ll need to rethink your visual marketing. Why? Because the stale methods that might’ve worked pre-1995 aren’t going to hold as much water today.
Fortunately, a little tweaking in your branding goes a long way! Just ask NYC travel and world literature indie staple, Idlewild Books. Seeking to capitalize on the store’s subdued visual language, designer Andrew Colin Beck rebranded to emulate the “Golden Era of Travel.”
The designer outfitted every printed and digital asset with topographical and travel-themed elements like compasses, ticket stubs, and flight maps.
The result? Cohesive, bygone branding accelerated into modernity – and one heck of a memorable bookstore. There’s a definitive theme bubbling beneath your store’s image, so dive in and bring it to light.
You won’t need to commission a pro designer to execute a head-turning rebrand. Instead, start with the vital details like logo design, business cards, and price tags.
Here’s how to build a robust visual brand:
- Choose a theme that embodies your brand’s soul. If your store is in a busy industrial neighborhood, lean into that atmosphere with minimalistic, industrial visual elements.
- Settle on 3-4 colors and fonts and carry those across all design assets to create cohesion.
- Build on a professionally designed logo template. Like your bookmark, simply choose a theme and customize it with branded colors, fonts, and visual elements.
Chapter 3: Create a Cozy Atmosphere
In an eight-year case study examining independent market growth among big-box retailers, Harvard professor Ryan Raffaelli discovered that there’s a model to retail success, and it’s called the 3C’s.
Adopted by indie bookstores nationwide, the 3C’s emphasize the importance of community, curation, and convening.
Let’s talk about the last one. Convening is the act of bringing people together, and what better way to do that than creating an enticing, cozy atmosphere for people to curl up to a good book or mingle with friends?
Here’s how to transform your bookstore into a bookworm’s sanctuary:
- Choose cozy sofas and seating that encourages people to lounge around.
- Play atmospheric music at a low volume that sets the mood without distracting readers.
- Host special events that bring people together, which I’ll expand on more later.
And don’t underestimate the power of a hot cup of coffee!
Chapter 4: Want A Cup O Joe While You Read Poe?
Why do the words bookstore and café go so well together? Because bookworms love to sip while they settle into a page-turner. What’s more, adding a coffee shop to your bookstore is another way to boost revenue.
Unlike the restaurant industry’s “turn and burn” model, the wings of your store flap on the wind of lounging customers. Instead of selling someone a book and sending them on their way to read it elsewhere, an in-house café says, “why not stay while?”
You’ll widen your demographic by reaching both bibliophiles and coffee lovers. Take a page from Boston institution, Trident Booksellers & Cafe.
With an impressive book collection, patio cafe, and a full coffee bar and eatery on offer, Trident gives shoppers endless reasons to stick around. Crack open a bestseller, bask in the wafting scent of fresh brew, and if you’re hungry, enjoy the artisanal eats.
You don’t need to offer a full menu to keep people around; the pairing of fresh coffee and books is enough to create a linger-friendly ambiance.
Chapter 5: Bring In Modern Tech To Stay Current
Rather than admitting defeat, indie bookstores have successfully reinvented themselves by adapting to the times. How?
By staying relevant; people want the coziness of an indie shop blended with modern conveniences.
Here’s how to flex some tech to match modern needs:
- Offer free Wi-Fi to paying customers.
- Tastefully place flatscreens around the shop that play author interviews, new releases, or book club talk shows.
- Provide hands-free payment methods, especially during this COVID era. Offer Apple Pay or a Square register to make payments easy, safe, and contact-free.
And above all, leverage the power of social media.
Chapter 6: Make Your Bookstore A Social Media Hotspot
Social media has had a firm hand in the indie bookstore renaissance. Case in point? Influencers love doing photoshoots at bookstores.
A quick scan of #bookstoresofinstagram yields more than 42,000 posts featuring bookstores from around the globe. The simplest aspect of your store makes it the most aesthetically appealing and shareable: Walls of shelves lined with books.
The hashtag #thelastbookstore from the LA indie shop has thousands of posts of shoppers posing behind the infamous hole in the wall of books.
Pop over to Venice, Italy, and the stacks of books comprising Libreria Acqua Alta has become an Instagrammable photo op.
So, how can you capitalize on the bookstore photo op trend?
- Get savvy on social: set up profiles on photo-sharing apps like Instagram and TikTok.
- Transform a corner of your store into a photo-op-craft an artful wall piece, a book-lined backdrop, or a kitschy corner.
- Post signage that encourages people to take a photo, share it on social media, and tag your store’s account.
- Don’t forget to create a custom hashtag, too!
Creating a photogenic space is the exact type of fuel that fanned the flame of the indie bookstore revival.
Chapter 7: Host Virtual Events
The indie bookstore’s backbone is local events, but how can you host events during a pandemic? By going virtual! Navigate your scheduled programming online to keep people involved with your bookstore.
Now, this tactic isn’t necessarily about driving sales as it is about staying current during a retailer’s nightmare: lockdowns and closures.
When methodically executed, a virtual event can drive book sales, foster community, and keep your shop in the loop.
Some staple events in a bookstore’s calendar include author talks, poetry slams, and live readings that lend themselves well to Zoom, Facebook Live, YouTube, and even your website. In fact, bookstores across the country – from Scottsdale to NYC – have found new ways to connect online.
Follow the approach of River Bend Bookshop in Glastonbury, CT. The store’s website serves as a hub that directs community members to virtual events. Daily live readings keep people involved, and shoppable links and buy buttons keep the revenue coming in while the physical doors are closed.
Above all, virtual events tell your loyal customers that you’re still active. If the industry can survive a massive collapse, then this pandemic’s got nothing on your store.
Resolution: A Novel Approach To Bookstore Marketing
How can you compete with giants? By leaning into the novelty that only an indie bookshop can offer. Indie bookstores are like holiday sugar cookies: no two are quite the same, and each one has its very own flavor and charm.
If there’s one thing we’ve learned about community brick-and-mortars, it’s that they’re incredibly resilient. There’s been a 49% increase in indie booksellers, according to the American Booksellers Association.
No thanks to resting on laurels, either. A revival boils down to sweat equity, and you can employ each of these strategies on a dime.
The resolution? Character beats chain retailers, soul outshines square footage, and above all, the heart of the indie bookstore is iron-clad. And that’s a story worth selling.