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Publishers Weekly Bookselling

Replacing Competition with Cooperation
Barbara R ther -- 1/10/00

In the past few months, independent bookstores in two different areas have begun to build new marketing muscle by pooling resources and manpower in partnerships designed to attract big-name authors.

"The fact that these independents are snagging author appearances is one thing that can keep customers from going to the chains," noted a long-time Colorado book rep. "If a ticket to an author appearance is included in the book's sale, then the value of that ticket more than makes up for the discount a large chain might be able to offer."

On November 29, J.K. Rowling spoke before an audience of 2,400 people in Maria Carillo High School gymnasium in Santa Rosa. According to attendees, the noise of the eager crowd stomping their feet in anticipation was "awesome." It was the largest audience in the Northern California leg of the tour for Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. While large crowds have become commonplace for Rowling, much less common was the joint-sponsoring of the event by two local independent bookstores: Copperfield's Books and Music, in Sebastapol, and Reader's Books in Sonoma.

Scholastic's requirements for stores hoping to host a Rowling event were demanding, including provisions for sales quantities, security and crowd management that made such an event a near-impossibility for many smaller stores. After Scholastic rep Roz Hilden encouraged Reader's Books to approach Copperfield's with the idea of filing a joint proposal, the two stores worked cooperatively. "We were inspired by the idea that independents working side by side can make a real difference," said Lila Weinberger of Reader's Books. "Together we could double our resources while effectively splitting costs."

Logistics for such a large venue involved employing Santa Rosa police for security, hiring shuttle buses to take the crowds from nearby parking lots, and booking entertainment for the crowd while they waited to get their books signed. Two tickets for the event were included with each copy of the book sold at the two stores. When the supply quickly ran out, some less-than-honorable tactics were used by eager parents. Take the "Weeping Widow of Walnut Creek" who called Copperfields explaining that not only had her two sons just lost their father in a terrible accident, but the boys had also lost their tickets on the bottom of a lake, and could the store please replace them. Thom Montan of Copperfields was moved by the tale and replaced them, only to discover that other booksellers had received the same call.

"That might have been the only negative in an otherwise extremely positive process," continued Montan. "The event was wonderful for the whole community. Both stores were extremely pleased and would be very willing to do it again."

Roz Hilden later lunched with Simon & Schuster adult trade rep Terry Warnick, and mentioned the joint Rowling event. A few days later, Warnick was discussing Frank McCourt's 'Tis tour with Jim Sena, buyer at McKenzie White Booksellers in Colorado Springs. When Sena heard that a joint partnership might help the store secure a McCourt appearance, he called Dick Noyes, owner of Chinook Bookshop. The jointly sponsored signing took place at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, with a sell-out crowd of 450.

McKenzie White, which has been at its present location for 18 years, has felt the squeeze from both a Barnes & Noble and a Borders opening nearby in the past two years. "We have to rely on the loyalty of our customers, and the press generated by an event like this is critical for us. Also, we are happy to forward the cause of Book Sense." All four bookstores credited the Book Sense program as instrumental in changing their thinking from competition to cooperation.
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