Friday, June 06, 2008

BEA Recap Part 1: IndieBound!

I got back from California on Tuesday night, and haven't had a moment to blog since then -- you know how it is. But I'm overflowing with stuff to tell you from Book Expo, so it'll have to take several posts. Part I today will be about the new ABA initiative, which is already getting talked about so much I want to put in my two cents ASAP. Part II will be about the graphic novel scene at BEA; Part III about the Emerging Leaders Project (and other party-related topics), and Part IV about green retailing (and other education-related topics). I hope you'll hold me to that, so I don't let these ride until I've forgotten what I wanted to say...

INDIEBOUND!
As promised, Thursday night at the Celebration of Bookselling the ABA unveiled the initiative that they've been hinting about for months. After a swanky canape/cocktail reception and some awards and accolades for booksellers and publishers, the big Oscar-style screens at our Hollywood hotel ballroom played a short film with the members of the ABA board reading this declaration:

When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for individuals to denounce the corporate bands which threaten to homogenize our cities and our souls, we must celebrate the powers that make us unique and declare the causes which compel us to remain independent.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all stores are not created equal, that some are endowed by their owners, their staff, and their communities with certain incomparable heights, that among these are Personality, Purpose and Passion. The history of the present indies is a history of experiences and excitement, which we will continue to establish as we set our sights on a more unconstrained state. To prove this, let’s bring each other along and submit our own experiences to an unchained world.

We, therefore, the Kindred Spirits of IndieBound, in the name of our convictions, do publish and declare that these united minds are, and darn well ought to be, Free Thinkers and Independent Souls. That we are linked by the passions that differentiate us. That we seek out soul mates to share our excitement. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the strength of our identities, we respectively and mutually pledge to lead the way as we all declare that we are IndieBound!

When I first saw this video at the Publisher Forums back in January, I cried. When I saw it again at our NAIBA board meeting in April, I cried again. And as Joe Drabyak of Chester County can attest, I got goosebumps again hearing it at BEA. There were all of these people I most respected, talking about some of the ideas I hold most dear, and the things I care most about in the world. As Avin describes the "aha!" moment when a consulting company brought this idea to the ABA: "This isn't a marketing campaign. It's a revolution."

It can sound a little vague if you're not sure what they're talking about, if you haven't heard Avin Domnitz' passionate introduction of the project and you don't know what IndieBound actually is. I could wish that the ABA had seen fit to explain more of IndieBound at the celebration, though they have been expounding it in various meetings and sessions before and after. But here's my take on what this is, and why it's great, and why it's going to work. I'll do it in three major points, and some rhapsodizing.

1) IndieBound renames/recreates BookSense to be more consumer-oriented.
BookSense is (was) a suite of things, implemented by the ABA about 10 years ago, designed to gather the power of indie bookstores: a BookSense Bestseller list based on our combined sales, a BookSense Picks list of our favorites, and a website template and gift card module usable at all of our stores. Publishers have long understood and embraced BookSense: they proudly trumpet BookSense Picks and BookSense Bestsellers, emblazon it on their books, and market to indies accordingly. (One important idea I picked up over the course of the week: the power of indies isn't their market share, it's their cultural influence; more on that later.) But if you mentioned BookSense to most folks outside the book industry, more often than not you'd be met with blank looks. Without the budget to stage a multi-million-dollar nationwide ad campaign, the ABA was never able to create BookSense as a brand that consumers recognized. They hoped this would happen on the store level, but for various reasons it never did.

Now, instead of the BookSense Bestseller List, we'll have the Indie Bestseller List. Instead of the BookSense Picks, we have the Indie Next List. (Nothing about BookSense is changing or disappearing: stores will still have access to the lists, the picks, and the website hosting and gift card programs -- they'll be switched over automatically.) It's transparent labeling, and instantly describes why these lists are important. Without us having to explain to customers "BookSense represents a group of indie bookstores nationwide, blah blah blah" -- it's there in the name. And it emphasizes the coolness of these lists: they're the indies, not the mainstream, not the corporate, not the mass. Which leads me to Component 2:

2) IndieBound builds on the growing awareness of the value of local independent businesses.
I've been predicting it, haven't I? In my Pollyanna-ish way, I've insisted that the tide is turning away from the online behemoths and big box stores; that along with figuring out that they want organic, local produce, educated consumers are figuring out that they want independent local businesses; that Buy Local movements are growing stronger as more consumers figure out what's really good for their local economy and culture. IndieBound articulates that, and gives bookstores tools for marketing, education, and dare I say, recruitment to the cause of buying local. IndieBound.org (not .com!) is, like BookSense.com was, a place where you can find the nearest indie bookstore by zip code. But it's also a place where you find information about buying local, buy t-shirts with "localist propaganda" (i.e. slogans about books and independence), and even set up social networking with like-minded revolutionaries. (Some of the tools are still in the works, so check back.) The website looks a little like (and here I reveal my political affiliation) the BarackObama.com website -- and I feel taps into a similar groundswell of hope and idealism and community-mindedness, of cock-eyed optimism and big plans. And it goes beyond just bookstores:

3) IndieBound can serve as a springboard for Buy Local inititatives.
One of the best parts about IndieBound is that it needn't apply only to bookstores. Lots of the language of this project could apply to any independent locally owned business: the hardware store, the bar, the ice cream parlor, the coffee shop, the pharmacy. The ABA is encouraging bookstores to share these things with other businesses, and build awareness of buying local throughout our communities. Some lucky communities already have strong Buy Local movements; they may not need this component, or they may tailor it to work together with what they already have. But for those who don't, this is an efficient and effective way to work together with other businesses to get across the message we all know so well: you have to shop at your local businesses if you want them to continue to exist.


It's a funny revolution -- as I pointed out the first time I heard about it, it's a capitalist revolution, and on a basic level we booksellers are hoping it will help us make money. But the very fact that we're independent booksellers reveals the embarrassing truth that we're not in it just for the money. We're in it because we believe in something: the power of the written word, the joys of a day spent among paper and ideas and people with questions, the people themselves -- regulars and kids and tourists and neighbors, hungry for something that we can provide. Books. Culture. Community. I think IndieBound gives us ways to express that passion that customers will understand.

All of us bookstores will be getting a big box soon full of more information about IndieBound and how we can use it. Part of the strength of this revolution is that it's got good propaganda: posters, shelftalkers, flyers, banners, clothing we can wear or sell. I've got a t-shirt that I've been wearing a lot already, that's only available for booksellers. In white letters on a red background, it says "THIS IS THE PART WHERE I SAVE THE DAY." Yeah, it makes me feel like a superhero (perhaps a slightly ironic superhero, which just makes it all the more hip.) And yeah, I really believe indie booksellers can save the day, just by making a place where people can come together over books.

The IndieBound graphics and rhetoric tap into a 1960s idealism -- my hero Lucy Kogler of Talking Leaves in Buffalo said they remind her of Woodie Guthrie -- but I love them because they're also contemporary, and young. It's no secret that I'm an advocate for the younger generation in bookselling, and for younger readers. And I think it's important that IndieBound conveys that indie bookstores are not a quaint relic of the past that we should try to delicately preserve in amber if possible -- they're a live thing, a powerful force in the contemporary world, and they're growing.


But you don't have to take my word for all this. I'm just one kid who's gets choked up about some pretty geeky stuff. There's a lot of enthusiasm out there, as well as some confusion and criticism. As an early adopter or "IndieBounder," I just got an email from the ABA with links to lots of other places where people are talking about the project. Click on any of the below to see what other folks are saying. And PLEASE, if you have thoughts, I'd love to see your comments. This is something we're going to be talking about for a long time.

Publishers Weekly article "IndieBound or Bust"

Shelf Awareness article covers the reveal and the specifics of the program, and interviews the ABA's Meg Smith about the reasons behind the change.

Book Browse likens IndieBound to Boston Tea Partiers with our "Independent Revolution."

One of the members of the consulting company Brains on Fire, which developed IndieBound, finally got to spill the beans in her blog.

Amy Goodman of Democracy Now (who gave a great lunchtime address at the Day of Education) interviewed outgoing Board President Russ Lawrence about IndieBound. You can watch a video of the interview or read a transcript.

Locus Books calls IndieBound a “fantastic initiative.”

Bookavore Stephanie Anderson gives some pretty glowing praise.

Kristin of Wild Rumpus gives a pretty good overview--and a peek into her psyche.

Michael Leiberman of Book Patrol has some criticism for the program.


The Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance gets some reactions from bookselling and publishing names.

Indie publisher Deb Robson of Nomad Press gives her thoughts on IndieBound. As a bonus, there's a great reader comment about the carbon footprint difference in buying local versus online.

Live from BEA -- PW covered the ABA Town Hall and Membership meetings, where there was much discussion of what IndieBound really is.


Paul Constant of The Stranger's Constant Reader doesn't seem too thrilled with the new campaign .

Gwen Dawson of Lit License is a little confused by the message.

Patrick at The Millions thinks the movement has promise--and be sure to check out the comments, they’re pretty interesting.

HeyNowYeah saw us on Democracy Now and thinks the message and focus are good, and serve as a reminder of "personal economic ethics."

The AP covers the launch--not as important as the Kindle, eh?--and has as interesting look at Penguin's CEO David Shanks' skepticism about the future of indies. Hopefully IndieBound is an answer to that!