Internet Marketing

Stayin' Alive: What Internet Marketers can learn from Indie Bookstores


With the ‘R’ word hovering, the volatile internet marketing industry is bound to suffer right? Not so fast. One odds-defying industry offers inspiration to those of us in the ever-fragile web biz. Read on for survival tips culled from their mysteriously hardy shelves…

Start With an Untapped Community

If you cater to a targeted community, especially one that had no other place to go before you came along, you will be able to withstand the impact of more generic giants. Such is the case with Barbara Bailey, who started Bailey/Coy books in Seattle in 1986. The first bookstore to target gay/lesbian literature, she’s sort of like the Perez Hilton of the printed word. Bailey knew she needed an edge to get her indie bookstore off the ground, and by paying attention to her community, the pride-filled mecca of Capitol Hill, she has preserved a following of people who remember when Bailey/Coy was the only place to shop for such GLTB books. Lesson: target a unique audience. Mistresses, Taxodermists, Hare Krishnas all need web love too.

Add a Practical Angle That Doesn’t Clash with Your Principles

It is possible to capitalize on a lofty dream in a lucrative way.The key is to look at what you are really trying to accomplish. For Pat and Ed Rutledge of the charming A Book of All Seasons in the snow town of Leavenworth, the goal was promoting literacy, but also providing a cozy place full of personality. By opening up a bed and breakfast upstairs, they were able to support their bookstore dream even when the sales weren’t there. As a result, they’ve been able to stay in business since 1992. Try and apply the same ingenious thinking to your website. When websites with personality pay off, everyone wins.

Have A Special of the Day

It’s not just for soup anymore! Weekly, monthly and daily features are a great way to capture and build an internet audience. From A List Apart’s Fresh every Friday post to Manolo for the Bride’s Friday Caption Contest, savvy websites know readers love knowing when to tune in for their favorite web fare.This is exactly what Chris O’Hara capitalized on at her Spokane bookstore “Auntie’s Bookstore” where she hosts a daily activity from reading, knitting, and live music since 1985.

Target a Certain Niche

This is similar to targeting a unique community, with a slightly different lens. What it means is that rather than focusing on a unique demographic, you target a unique subject matter that might actually draw a fairly diverse group of people. For example, our blog is about having a thinking-woman’s wedding, so it appeals to people interested in feminism, fashion, wedding planning and blogs in general. The same can be seen from Peter Miller Architecture and Design Books, an independent bookstore that carries only architectural, design and graphic titles. Though it’s a specific focus, these books would appeal to anyone from architects, art lovers, interior designers, graphic designers or people who just simply want to support indie bookstores.

Remember It’s Still a Business

You may not want to be cutthroat and corporate, but maintaining your professional polish is still the make-or-break factor for independent businesses. There’s a fine line between independent and the wedding singer lady who paid Adam Sandler for singing lessons in meatballs. Don’t let your “indie” attitude overtake your need for good customer service. I once walked into a Twice Sold Tales and asked for a title. The surly store clerk said to me “This isn’t Burger King.” Needless to say, that bookstore is still struggling and Burger King, is well, King. This is not the way it should be, and the ability for independent businesses to still maintain their professional standards is what’s going to change it. Peter Miller, a Harvard Alum makes this point brilliantly when he says “We try not to be floppy, we try not to be sloppy, and we try to be extraordinarily up to speed.” Staying up to date on your industry, presenting yourself in a sharp and genuine way, and not making careless mistakes is crucial advice for both indie bookstores and website start-ups.

Make Passion Your Profit

The truth is, a lot of these bookstores aren’t in the black every year. But every single one of them has stayed in business for ten plus years. The same can be said for many internet marketing companies. That rocks! The world needs more quaint, quirky creative spaces, from bookstores to crafty blogs, and I think it’s amazing when this big-picture principle sustains people through financial rough patches. So choose over Overstock, choose Abebooks over Amazon, and choose my quirky, creative internet marketing company Portent Interactive (it’s not a plug unless it’s shameless) over big name internet marketing firms who specialize in one-flash-intro-fits-all. When independent businesses flourish, everyone benefits-and the world becomes more interesting.

Some Information Taken From: Washington CEO April 2008 Edition

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