A year after the American Booksellers Association launched IndieBound at BookExpo America in Los Angeles to replace 10-year-old BookSense, the wide-ranging program has had some growing pains, though the ABA remains convinced it provides the best opportunity for its members to compete in today's market.
Since its launch, some aspects of IndieBound—such as the IndieNext List—have been adopted quicker than others. “We've not really jumped on the IndieBound bandwagon. It just keeps being moved down the list of priorities. I think ABA did a fantastic job and hope we can get with it,” said Dana Brigham, manager and co-owner of Brookline Booksmith in Brookline, Mass. “I like the concept of aligning ourselves with other independent businesses and of thinking bigger than the individual bookstore,” said Kris Kleindienst, co-owner of 40-year-old Left Bank Books in St. Louis. “We have the giant Eat, Sleep, Read poster, and we are a member of our local business alliance, so this is a way of solidifying that.” But with opening a second store last December, adjusting to a new inventory control system and trying to stabilize her business, Kleindienst hasn't had a chance to learn as much about IndieBound as she would like.
Much of the problem has to do with timing. With the economy going into a free fall last October, for many indies between 5% and 10% down was “up.” Even so, maintains CEO-elect Oren Teicher, “IndieBound is taking root with our members, their customers and an expanding national base of consumers concerned about their neighborhoods.” He cites a number of measurable successes, including that IndieBound comes up first on Google searches for “find a bookstore,” “independent bookstore” and four other independent and local bookstore permutations. In addition, there are nearly 8,000 registered users of the IndieBound.org site.
The shop local component of IndieBound, which includes fliers and page views for the Declaration of IndieBound and Here's What You Just Did by shopping at an independent, have been among the program's most popular features. “Without a doubt, I have definitely had more customers who are interested in the shop local movement,” said Sally Brewster, co-owner of Park Road Books in Charlotte, N.C. “I think the ABA really did pinpoint that right on the head.”
One unexpected difficulty Paul Hanson, manager of Eagle Harbor Book Company in Bainbridge Island, Wash., encountered is resistance to IndieBound among other local businesses, who regard it as a bookstore branding of the localism movement and are determined to assert their own independence by creating their own name and materials with a more local flavor. Still, Hanson applauds the ABA's efforts. “I feel like we'd all be in dire straits without IndieBound,” he said.
Incoming ABA president Michael Tucker, president and CEO of the 11-store Books Inc., points to the social networking side of IndieBound as particularly important. He says that Facebook and Twitter bring in large numbers of teens and that social networking brought about by the IndieBound movement will make a similar difference for booksellers.
While the IndieBound message that independents are in this together resonates with many booksellers, some find that the way it's presented doesn't work for them. Lisa Sharp, owner of three-year-old Nightbird Books in Fayetteville, Ark., made use of IndieBound posters and bookmarks and worked to start a local business alliance in Fayetteville. But she doesn't include the IndieBound Web site on anything she does because she doesn't want her customers to shop at other bookstores.
No one questions that the message of shopping local is getting through. “But I don't know if it's IndieBound or in the air,” said Ellen Richmond, owner of the 1,200-sq.-ft. Children's Book Cellar in Waterville, Maine. Either way, she sports an IndieBound pin at the store and actively promotes the message of independents. Still, Teicher is committed. “ABA,” he said, “believes that the overall shop local/local first movement remains an integral ingredient to the long-term viability of indie bookstores.”