Thursday, April 4, 2019

How Indie Bookstores Have Mastered Social Media

That cozy, helpful, unfailingly polite indie bookstore down the way? They're killing it on Twitter right now.  ♦ 

No, that tweet isn’t from the emo kid from your high school class. It’s from The Book Loft (@TheBookLoft1), an independent bookstore in the German Village area of Columbus, Ohio. Their Twitter page bio boasts of the store’s claim to fame: “32 rooms of discounted new books spanning an entire city block.” The store opened in 1977 as a mere three rooms and over the years expanded to its current, impressive sprawling size. Meanwhile, the store's Twitter account opened in 2012, and as of this writing it has over 4,000 followers.That might not sound like a lot, at least compared to some of the massive celebrity and Insta-influencer followings out there, but social media accounts like these might just be contributing to the comeback of independent booksellers across the United States, even in the face of Internet business-busters like Amazon (#RIPBorders).

According to an article from Axios published in January, independent bookstores have grown by nearly 50 percent across the country in the last 10 years, from 1,651 stores to 2,470. Bradley Graham, co-owner of the independent bookstore Politics & Prose in Washington D.C., is quoted in the piece attributing the rising success to “a sense of community, a sense of neighborhood-ness.”

Social media serves as a twofold strategy for establishing this sense of “neighborhood-ness” by informing the public and creating a subset community in the online world. Posts and tweets like the one above create an online personality of sorts for a company. The Book Loft often tweets with a voice appealing to the sarcastic and strange sense of millennial internet humor, wisely tailoring content to Twitter’s main demographic.

Meanwhile, its Instagram account with 5,045 followers takes advantage of an image-heavy platform by creating posts that are relevant and meaningful for all age groups with photos of local events, authors and their books, and the store itself.

Small businesses are also using social media to build each other up and weave themselves into a local network. In February, The Book Loft, Stauf’s Coffee Roasters, STUMP, and Glenn Avenue Soap Company banded together to create an Instagram giveaway with a prize of products from each Columbus-based shop in exchange for liking the relevant photo, tagging a friend in the comments, and following each company’s Instagram account.

🌿GIVEAWAY🌿⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ We know It’s hard to stay positive in the Winter, so we've collaborated with a few other amazing shops in Columbus to bring you the Winter Wellness Giveaway! ❄️🙌🏼 ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ We will choose one winner to receive: ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ •This Zz Plant in that perfect planter from @Stumpplants 🌱🌵 ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀ •A $25 gift card to @thebookloft 📚 ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ • A jar of body butter, an uplifting essential oil blend, and a soothing essential oil roller from @glennavesoap ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ • 2 free drink coupons, a 1/2lb of coffee, and a crew neck sweatshirt from @staufs_coffee ☕️ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ 🙌🏼📚☕️🌿 Rules to enter the giveaway: ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ 1. Like this photo 2. Follow each business @glennavesoap @stumpplants @staufs_coffee @thebookloft 3. Tag a friend in the comments! ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ 💥Boom you’re entered! Get additional entries by sharing this photo in your story and tagging us! We will announce the winner on Friday 2/15 at noon!
A post shared by The Book Loft (@thebookloft) on

Other indies know the power of social media as a marketing tool. Joseph-Beth Booksellers has a handful of locations scattered across Ohio and Kentucky in major cities like Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Lexington, with a dedicated social media account for each. The Twitter account @JosephBethCincy has 5,674 followers, including celebrity comedian and television host Ellen DeGeneres. The bio advertises “Cincinnati's indie bookstore—complete with coffee, crème brûlée and couches” and invites followers to connect with them on Instagram, Pinterest, and Facebook, too.

The Twitter account offers a variety of information, such as scheduled readings, events (like Quiet Puzzle Hour), articles about the bookselling industry and other literary news, and book recommendations. The Instagram account offers similar details visually, with many images of books and authors. There’s a weekly post called New Book Tuesday that features the covers of recent releases, and the account also announces an occasional giveaway.

By utilizing social media, bookstores are creating more than advertisements—they are promoting engaged communities. It’s no longer just about the announcement: It’s also about the likes, follows, comments, and retweets that accompany it.

But what does this mean for how indie booksellers are creating community in the real world? Their social media profiles demonstrate how physical stores are offering experiences that online stores simply can’t. You can go online and buy a book off Amazon Prime with a click and have it delivered to your house in two days, but a true bibliophile would find more joy experiencing the “32 rooms of discounted new books spanning an entire city block” in a quaint area of Ohio’s capital. I myself have spent hours wandering The Book Loft, perusing its shelves and consulting the map of the building that’s offered at the front of the store. And why get a cardboard box dropped on your porch in two days when you could go to Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Cincinnati and complete your reading experience with “coffee, crème brûlée and couches”?

Not only do indie bookstores boast a more fun, tactile individual experience, but they create spaces for members of the community to celebrate their favorite authors and books together. Author readings, children’s storytime, and puzzle hours offer us more chances to interact with the books we enjoy and other local bookworms, too. It’s more intimacy than we’ll ever experience from our glowing screens.The Columbus Dispatch even ranked The Book Loft as one of the top 15 date spots in Columbus—news that the store was quick to share on its Twitter account when the article went live around Valentine’s Day. (I’ll even admit that my boyfriend made The Book Loft a stop on our agenda the first time I ever visited him in his hometown.) And then, of course, there are also the economic benefits that your town receives when you shop small and support local businesses.

The overarching irony is that social media is often critiqued for creating social barriers, whether we spend dinner with friends glued to our phones or spend our time wishing we could be the popular girl we see on Instagram with 2,000 followers. This irony also helps indies. Technology has primed us for a world that demands immediacy and constant efficiency and pulls us in a million directions at once. Having positive physical and personal experiences has become more exciting, meaningful, and gratifying. In the case of indie bookstores, reading books and browsing social media (which are normally regarded as independent activities) become tools that draw us together. Humans are inherently social creatures, and we need to belong to a community in order to survive. Indies use our internet addiction to transport us from our online societies and draw us to places and events in our real-world neighborhoods.

  • About the Author
    Amanda Parel is currently a junior at Miami University co-majoring in Creative Writing and Journalism and minoring in Spanish. She was born and raised in Dayton, Ohio, but loves to travel. At Miami, she’s the secretary for Miami Dance Corps, Editor-in-Chief for Miami’s Odyssey team, a member of Sigma Tau Delta, and a resident assistant. Visit her online here.

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