The Real Reasons to Shop Local and the Pending Tidal Wave
The Concert Tour
After three or four consecutive weekends on the road and in the air, attending regional book shows across the country I am ever more convinced that booksellers, librarians, teachers and comic shop owners have very similar personality traits and fall into two categories. There's the collector/fan or the passionate professional. The collector/fan enjoys the benefits of getting first edition copies of the works of their favorite authors or creator while the passionate professional enjoys receiving these same materials with a goal to share what they have discovered with those around them. What they also have in common is the assumption that the larger world understands exactly what their collection or selection holds for you. This is something that no retailer or librarian can afford to do. If you don’t introduce your business to every new person walking through the door, you lose another opportunity.
Why Should I Shop Local?
During the most recent book show I attended, the Northern California Independent Bookseller's Association's annual conference there was a presentation about the American Bookseller's Association's newest endeavor: Indie Bound. During the presentation the speaker extolled the virtues of the new web site and some of the newly created marketing materials. The theme of the materials is Shop Local. The signs are attractive and adaptable to the creativity of the individual store owner. What was missing from the discussion was this: Why shop local? What would compel me or you to 'shop local'?
I certainly don't want to belittle the speaker as he had the best of intentions in helping members of the ABA. There was even discussion on the possibilities of partnering with other local businesses, hardware stores, jewelers etc...to create a sense of camaraderie. Again the central point that needed emphasis was why?
This is Why I Shop Local
I know why I should shop local. My local hardware store owners know my house was built in the 1880s. They know that the well water has heavy iron content and they know my slate roof isn't going to last another 100 years. They know what I want, need and enjoy. This is where they beat the chain stores hands-down.
My local bookseller is passionate about the books that he or she has on the shelf. They know that if I like this book then I may really enjoy something by another. They will tell me if the author is on tour. We can stand there and wonder aloud what that author really meant in chapter 7.
While the chain store clerk is punching a clock points me towards a general direction and says 'Yeah, the graphic novels are over there", my bookstore owners are trying to understand why the hell I want to read a 'comic book' but at least they are willing to spend a half hour with me discussing the virtues of reading Identity Crisis or why The Ten-Cent Plague would make any historian angry. A clock punchin' clerk wouldn't give me that kind of time.
I know why I shop local but you; Mr. Bookstore Owner can't assume the rest of the world knows the value of what you do. Like the librarian who understands that maintaining relevance in the community means doing new and creative things helps. It is maintaining awareness in the community with constant promotion that does the trick. So tell the world what you do so well and why it matters and you have a better chance of surviving the chaos of economic roller coasters. Too often we read a quote from a bookstore blaming the economy when the reality provides a much different set of circumstances. So, tell your community what you do and say it loud. You can’t expect them to just assume you sell books.
Kristen McLean: A Bookseller's View of Graphic Novels
A highlight of the NCIBA show for me anyway was the presentation Kristen McLean from the Association of Booksellers for Children gave on starting a graphic novel section in stores. Kristen understands there is a rapidly growing audience for graphic novels and equal to this is a general confusion in the independent bookstore market on where to start. She's also proposed more than a few ideas such as starter kits and plan-a-grams which can help the bookseller to create a foundation. She had a fairly good turnout for the program and it felt like the library market did only just a few years ago. It was great to hear all the questions by people who are looking to get a handle on this new format.
I think I've had some pretty interesting discussions with editors and publishers about the development of the graphic novel format but a very recent conversation really helped put the whole thing into proper perspective. One editor shared with me that the sales force was pushing back on the idea of creating a graphic novel imprint. This particular house has the opportunity to sell a brand that is universally known and yet, are trying to discourage the project because the sales force isn't 'seeing the numbers'. This is where the sales force has to get in an airplane to get a better view of the landscape. Most of the houses have some really great graphic novel titles and yet fail to have them on display at any of the shows. Surely the biggest selling title of year, The Watchmen, deserves to be displayed at a show. Aside from one or two single lines the only prominent display came from the Roaring Brook folks with their First Second line and the Bloomsbury Publishing line. Sadly, that was only on display at the NEIBA show in Boston. Other shows had the posters but no books. It's a shame too because the indie bookstore owners were looking for the books and for someone to talk with. I know it's obvious but if you don't tell people what you have they aren't going to find it.
The Road Leads to the Educational Arena
Just before the New England Independent Bookseller Association show in Boston I had a dinner meeting with the people who are working on plans for the Massachusetts State Library Association's 2009 conference in Springfield. For next year's show there will be plenty of graphic novel programming for public librarians, media specialists and teachers.
Meanwhile our friends at the Texas Library Association have announced the creation of the Maverick Graphic Novel Award Committee (and they do mean to use Maverick in the truest sense of the word). The first awards will be launched at the 2009 TLA show. Earlier this month I had a first meeting with Fordham University discussing a graphic novel symposium for students, educators and academics which will take place on the Fordham campus January 31, 2009. February 2009 brings New York Comic Con which will also feature graphic novel educational programming for teachers.
Of course I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that on Election Day the New York City Department of Education will host a day with graphic novel programming for the school librarians who work in the five boroughs. Also next month hundreds of thousands of book fans will descend upon the campus of Miami Dade College for the 25th annual Miami Book Fair International. The book fair will celebrate this major anniversary with a graphic novel pavilion featuring 25 booths filled with graphic novels.
Shortly after that we have the National Council of Teachers of English annual conference in San Antonio. Over 8,000 of the nation's leading English teachers will gather to learn from their peers about the latest tools to use for winning the literacy battle. This year's conference will feature 11 workshops on using graphic novels in education. First it was the librarians who saw the future and now it's the teachers and professors. We have an audience and we have great stories. The one thing lacking is a sales force that can see what they have lying at their finger tips.
John Shableski works for Diamond Book Distributors as a sales manager with a focus on the independent bookstore market, public and school libraries. He's been a moderator and panelist at Book Expo, San Diego Comic Con, a moderator and coordinator for library panels at the New York Comic Con, a guest speaker at library events, regional book shows and a symposium coordinator. He is currently collaborating on several graphic novel symposiums across the country. He can be reached via email at email@example.com