Independent Bookstore Day is back for the third year, taking place on Saturday, April 29. This year, 458 bookstores from 48 states are participating, with only Hawaii and Arkansas not represented; this is up from the 435 stores that took part in 2016.
“We keep growing year on year,” said IBD program director Samantha Schoech, who administers the event under the auspices of the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association. Schoech noted that sales on previous Independent Bookstore Days have been so strong many booksellers have taken to referring to the event as a kind of Christmas in April.
“Nearly all of the stores reported to us that last year sales were up 200% for that day,” Schoech said. “Several said sales were up over 1,000% over their average Saturday sales for the month.”
Oren Teicher, CEO of the American Booksellers Association, agreed that IBD has become a very important day in the annual bookstore calendar. “A big part of its success is that every indie store in the country can celebrate the day with their customers in a way that best reflects its unique character and personality,” Teicher said.
IBD was modeled on Free Comic Book Day (May 6) and other similar events, which offer exclusive merchandise to customers. As such, official participation in IBD requires that bookstores order 15 items of the exclusive Independent Bookstore Day merchandise.
“There are some stores that participate without ordering the exclusive merchandise, but we don’t know who they are,” Schoech said. This is unfortunate, she noted, because the items “really do connect customers to the bookstores in a unique way.”
Among this year’s exclusive merchandise is a literary map of the United States from CBD Publishing; “The Sandmeyer Reaction,” a selection from Michael Chabon’s latest novel, Moonglow (Chabon will read from the book at Green Apple Books on the Park in San Francisco); a pack of 12 literature-themed condoms, with six “Give Me That Darcy” Jane Austen condoms and six “Great Expectations” condoms; and—should those fail to work—a Mo Willems Elephant and Piggie onesie emblazoned with the word Read. Another of the exclusive items, the drinks recipe book A Literary Cocktail Party (CBD), has inspired several bookstores to host their own, well, cocktail parties.
The 2017 IBD author ambassador is Emma Straub, who wrote much of her first novel while working at the now-closed BookCourt in Brooklyn, N.Y. In promoting the event, she said: “Independent bookstores are my first stops in any new city, a quick check of the pulse in any literary community. They are ports in the storm, passageways to magical lands, escape hatches out of bad moods.” Just two days after IBD, Straub and her husband, Michael Fusco-Straub, are scheduled to open their much-anticipated new bookstore in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn: Books Are Magic.
Booksellers throughout the country have planned a wide variety of activities for the day. At Brazos Bookstore in Houston, customers can enjoy the bookstore’s Cormac McCarthy self-published coloring book. “It comes with only two crayons,” joked manager Benjamin Rybeck, “red and black.” The Oakland, Calif., branch of Diesel: A Bookstore is one of many stores holding literary happy hours. Nashville’s Parnassus Bookstore is promising “a brand new, never before seen, original story created before your very eyes by Nashville’s finest literary talents!” Libro.fm, which sells audiobooks through independent bookstores, is offering five free audiobooks, including the Indie Next pick The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck, David Foster Wallace’s A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, and two samplers.
In many regions, bookstores are teaming up for the day. In Minneapolis and St. Paul, 18 bookstores have signed on to offer a Twin Cities Independent Bookstore Passport. Getting your passport stamped at one of the stores activates a coupon for that store, and more stamps brings more benefits, from free swag to prize drawings and coupons. Last year, 120 people visited five or more bookstores in the Twin Cities on IBD, with 80 visiting all 10 participating bookstores. The dozen bookstores that make up the Independent Booksellers of Piedmont North Carolina are offering a Bookstore Field Guide with tiered prizes for customers who make visits to multiple stores. In Seattle, Third Place Books’ graphic designer Stephen Crowe has created the Independent Bookstore Day Challenge Map, a poster featuring the 19 participating stores in the city; those who get it stamped at each store on the day will receive a 25% discount for an entire year. Last year, 120 people achieved the feat.
In the Chicago area, 24 stores are participating in the #MyChicagoBookstore Challenge, which encourages each customer to spend at least $25 at a participating store. This will get the customer a carabiner on which he or she can collect a luggage tag from each store visited. Ten tags collected unlock a yearlong 10% discount from each store visited, and 15 get collectors a 15% discount.
Several booksellers acknowledge that Saturday is already a busy day for sales, so it can be hard to see the bump in business. Accordingly, some stores opt for a low-key approach to the event. In California, the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books precedes the promotion by less than a week. “So we’re not going to get too fancy with IBD this year,” Mary Williams of Skylight Books said. “We’ll celebrate it, of course, with the special items and snacks and beverages and cake, but nothing interesting enough to brag about.”And at Powell’s in Portland, Ore., director of marketing Kim Sutton said that the store isn’t doing any special programming but is offering some of the exclusive merchandise.
The biggest impact of IBD is felt in smaller communities, Schoech said. “There is a growing national realization that neighborhoods matter, that quality of life depends on the quality of the neighborhoods,” she noted. “Independent bookstores are a huge part of that: they are a source of events, new ideas, discussion, and there is a lot more awareness of the importance of bookstores in the world. Not only that but this year with the current climate, a lot of bookstores are serving as sanctuaries. I think it will be a perfect storm for sales.”