Many booksellers know MySpace can help them boost attendance at author events—but it turns out the social networking site can also alleviate financial woes. Just ask Linda Bubon and Ann Christophersen, owners of Chicago’s Women & Children First. A plea for help on the store’s MySpace page has saved the troubled bookstore from shutting down—at least for now.
After an April 11 item about the store’s financial woes in the Chicago gay/lesbian newspaper Windy City Times, Bubon and Christophersen posted a note on their MySpace page saying "the rumors are true," that they were in fact experiencing financial difficulties that had already forced them to cut Christophersen’s salary by 80%, and decrease store hours. Posting a blog entry titled "How You Can Help Insure the Future of Feminist Bookselling in Chicago," they asked customers to shop at the store, tell friends about it and "show their love" by putting Women & Children in their top MySpace "friends" area.
The response to the posting was immediate, and overwhelmingly positive. Not only were sales Friday and throughout the weekend the highest Bubon and Christophersen had seen since Christmas, but 30 new members paid $25 each to join the store’s club, which entitles them to a 10% discount and a subscription to Books to Watch Out For, an international book reviews e-newsletter. Other nonprofit groups have contacted the store in the past few days, offering to host fundraisers. And the store’s Internet sales have "gone through the roof," said Bubon, to the extent that one employee has been assigned just to fill Internet orders.
"I’m basking in the love," Bubon said. "The store was swamped all weekend. I’ve seen customers in the past five days I hadn’t seen in five years, since Hillary Clinton came to our store. We had not wanted to go public, but we were encouraged to let the community know that things had gotten dire."
In off-the-record comments last month, Bubon told PW, "We’re coping with a downward decline sales that’s having a crushing effect on us." She subsequently agreed to allow PW to go on the record with those remarks for this story. "Sales have gone down roughly 5% each year for the past three years," she admitted, attributing the drop to the proximity of a Borders store, which opened a mile away from Women & Children First three years ago, as well as ongoing competition from online booksellers. "We have calls from people saying, ‘Here’s Amazon.com’s price. Can you meet or beat this?’ " Bubon complained during last month’s conversation with PW.
But today she was upbeat: "People will respond, if you just let them know."