Powell’s Books is a 35-year-old male, 8'11." The Strand is a woman; zodiac sign Aquarius. Book People is single and would like to meet "young wizards," "literary snobs" and "people into playing Mad Libs." Vroman’s Bookstore insists it doesn’t want to have kids.
Weird? Yes. But that's what happens when bookstores try to fit into a social networking site better known for connecting like-minded teens and 20-somethings. For booksellers who've long struggled to get potential customers to visit their stores, the Internet has brought a new challenge—getting those same people to visit their Web sites. Increasingly, booksellers are responding by taking their Web sites to the potential customers in the form of a MySpace page.
"We realized that young people in their 20s and 30s—and younger—are spending their time on these spaces, and we really wanted them to find us," said Tattered Cover marketing and community relations manager Patty Miller, who started her store’s MySpace profile last October and also recently set up profiles on Facebook and YouTube. The store has almost 500 friends. (The implicit goal for most MySpace members is to connect with as many people as possible and add them to their Friend Space. Friends, who are added by permission only, often don’t meet offline, but eagerly share links with each other to favorite songs, videos, photos and books.) Tattered Cover’s friends include a local record shop, author David Sedaris and Powell’s Bookstore. Its MySpace page announces author events Miller thinks will attract a younger audience and features a virtual tour of the Tattered Cover’s lower downtown store.
Many other bookstores across the country—The Strand, Joseph Beth, Vroman’s, Left Bank Books, even a Borders in Bolingbrook, Ill.—have MySpace profiles. Thanks to what Miller called the "chutes and ladders" effect, lots of stores are linked to each other as friends, particularly if they’re in the same area or carry the same kinds of books.
Book People, in Austin, has been a MySpace member since April 2005. The store’s events coordinator, Alison Kothe, manages its page, and uses it to send reminders to the store’s friend list—which includes more than 4,400 MySpace members—about upcoming events and sales. Kothe sees Book People’s web site as "a little more generic and general" and appealing to all readers, while its MySpace page has a younger feel. "We can be funnier and sarcastic and silly," Kothe said, "And still be really true to our business but target it to an under-30 audience." (For instance, the "headline" underneath Book People’s name on its MySpace page reads "Bookseller of the Year, yo.")
Having a MySpace profile may not directly affect book sales, but it does seem to draw people to events. Miller, of the Tattered Cover, said a recent author event with Ishmael Bael drew an overflow crowd of more than 200. Announcing the event on MySpace may have had something to do with that, she said. And Kothe, of Book People, said her store surveyed customers at a recent event and found that 15% of them found out about the event through MySpace.