Of course, it would be great if you were to walk up to the counter and give the nearest bookseller a heartfelt hug or a high-five just for being awesome, but I've got something else in mind. Here's what I'm thinking:
You can thank them by helping to spread the word about what great booksellers they are.
Your favorite booksellers are working their butts off keeping the store open, lining up interesting authors to come visit, receiving new books, paying the bills, and going home at night and reading those new books so they can say something smart when you come in and ask about them.
What we can each do to help our favorite bookstores is make sure that the rest of the world knows how great they are and why. By doing this, we directly contribute to their continued survival because indie bookstores, like all independent businesses, depend on word-of-mouth, on buzz, on the general public knowing that they exist. If customers aren't coming into the store to buy books, your favorite bookstore is going to have a tough time keeping those bills paid.(1)
In the olden days (2), booksellers would run ads in the yellow pages to announce their existence, and maybe newspaper ads to promote a new bestseller or an author event. That was it.
Nowadays we've got the Web, with all the social networking and local search and buzz networks you can stand. What all these new ways of connecting have in common is that they are really ways of creating, visualizing, and evaluating REPUTATION.
We all have choices about where and how we spend our time, attention and money. We're inundated with ads and promotions and contests and insidious games that are really buzz engines. Every day, we're exposed to companies that exist only to create tiny text ads and cute little animations to attract eyeballs so they can make a tiny amount of money on each ad click.
All this white noise can drown out the genuine and worthwhile buzz about the places and people that truly deserve our attention. And, reader, you and I are the lucky ones. We already HAVE a favorite bookstore. We know where to turn when we need a new book or a recommendation.
But we're in a distinct minority. Most of the millions of people around us are not regular readers. But they are all potential customers for your favorite bookstore. And maybe, one day, they'll need to find a bookstore.
What you can do to help is to strengthen the REPUTATION of your favorite bookstore online so that when Newbie Customer goes looking for a great bookstore in her area, the one she finds will be your favorite.
- When she searches on Google Maps, the top hit should be your favorite bookstore.(3)
- When she looks on Yelp or Yahoo! Local or Bing, the best reviewed bookstore should be the one you love.
- And the reviews on all those sites? They should make Newbie Customer weep for all the lost years and missed connections with your favorite bookseller.
- When she checks out Facebook or Twitter or other social networks yet uninvented, the bookstore in her area that has the most fans is your favorite bookstore.
So that's it. You can thank your favorite bookseller by helping them stay in business for the next new customers coming along.
It's really not enough that you spend your book-buying budget there and that you make your whole book group shop there. We need to help steer more customers in their direction. And this whole social networking thing gives smart, impassioned voices a disproportionate advantage over the silent majority. Our voices stand out. And our votes will help our favorite bookstores be found by more customers.
Here's a list of places to start.
This won't take very long, so consider working your way down the list and then starting back at the top with your second favorite bookstore, too. (You know you have one.)
Local Social Networks
(Even if there's not a specific directory for your town or city, specific businesses are always searchable and reviewable.)
- Judy's Book
- CityVoter. (Never heard of it? According to one of my sources for this article, CityVoter is one of the top data sources for Google's local search results.)
Search Engines with Local Results
Local Yellow Pages listings with Ratings & Reviews
(A lot of other Internet "yellow pages" type listings pull their data from these three.)
- Facebook - You're not a member yet? Quit putting it off! The rest of humanity is all there waiting to "friend" you... Now make sure that you've friended your favorite booksellers' Fan pages. And maybe leave a nice note for them.
> Credit where credit is due: It was one of my own favorite booksellers, Daniel Goldin at Boswell Book Company, who brought this idea to my attention with a post on his own store blog, asking his customers to vote for Boswell Book Company in local Best Of the Year contests and to review the store favorably on Google and Yelp.
- Check out this article from the blog of SEO specialists Conversation Marketing.
- And follow up with this list of local search resources. I drew a lot of inspiration from both articles.
- Want to blow a week or more pumping up your SERP (that's Search Engine Results Page)? Read this article on a pretty comprehensive survey of the Ranking Factors that affect results - Customer Reviews comes in the Top 3 factors.)
(1) I'm going to assume that you are already spending every available book-dollar in your favorite local bookstores and not someplace reckless like an online retailer with no economic roots in your local community.
(2) Yep, I'm being ironic. That was how we were still doing it when I got started in bookselling.
(3) Think mobile: In addition to iPhone and Android mobile results, Google's data is also driving local search results on TomTom GPS units now. Your positive reviews can help drive customers who are already in their car to your favorite bookstore.