ABA utilizes readers to enhance its story

American Booksellers Association employs its consumer program to promote local retailers

The American Booksellers Association (ABA) communicates with its 1,600-member independent bookstores and promotes independent retailers through various campaigns, but in 2008, the trade association wanted to do more consumer-facing programs. So in June of last year, ABA took its BookSense program, which reached out to publishers and booksellers, and replaced it with IndieBound, a consumer-friendly program that promotes independent bookstores and retailers.

“The mission of ABA is to make our members' businesses and their lives a little easier, a little better, a little bit more profitable,” says Avin Mark Domnitz, CEO of ABA. “Aside from that, it is to tell the consuming public, through things like IndieBound, about the importance and excellence of independent booksellers in the marketplace.”

IndieBound includes in-store materials that promote shopping at independent stores; the Indie Next List of upcoming books highlighted by booksellers; and a Web site, launched in September, which has a social-networking aspect. There, a database of independent stores has reached nearly 4,000, says ABA's CMO Meg Smith, and visitors can comment on their favorite stores.

“We've always known that BookSense had resonated with publishers and booksellers,” Smith says. “[But] we saw a lot of consumer-led movements that were affecting retail [about] sustainability and shopping local. We realized we had a fabulous opportunity to sell independent because it was sexy again.”

ABA is also working with other trade associations and independent stores so bookstores can cross-promote with other types of independent retailers – and vice versa. Toward the end of last year, ABA member stores tested that by partnering with hardware stores, a toy store, and a bicycle retailer. “It is another way for us to communicate to consumers [through] other groups [that] have the same demographic,” Smith says.

In addition to IndieBound, ABA is also getting into other social networks, like Facebook and Twitter, where several of its staff members have accounts. The organization also utilizes its Web site, a weekly e-newsletter called Bookselling This Week, and a blog as a way to reach out to the industry.

“Being a member organization, we always have to recognize that whatever message we're giving, we have to give it in multiple ways [at] multiple times,” Domnitz says.

ABA also uses major industry events to share its news throughout the year. IndieBound was officially introduced at Book-Expo America, of which ABA is a sponsor. And the Winter Institute, a three-day educational symposium, will take place January 29 to February 1.

“That is a very big PR occasion for us, our members, and for the trade,” Smith says. In addition to its own PR, ABA also provides its members with materials for their own PR and outreach.

For members, ABA supplies a PR kit, or “literary liberation box,” as Smith calls it, which includes talking points for the local media and sample press releases.

“It's not so much about selling the books – of course that is very much a part of it,” Smith says. “But we have to communicate to the buying public that if they are going to keep their communities vibrant and healthy, economically, going to the local retailer [or] the independent retailer is one way to do that.”

ABA, like so many organizations, is funded by an endowment that was negatively affected by the economy. This has led the organization to try different ways to get its message out, and the economic situation is a part of its outreach.

For the holiday season, and in anticipation of a difficult time for retailers, the organization planned special IndieBound-themed marketing materials that focused on the value of the book as a gift. Stores used the materials in e-mail newsletters, postcards, and more. Additionally, IndieBound's consumer-facing Web site was well-positioned for the holiday season, offering visitors ways to find independent stores for their shopping needs.

“What [we're] trying to do is arm our members so they can market themselves in their [local] areas,” Smith says. “We tell our stores that when money is tight, advertising, marketing, and PR is not the thing to cut.”

At a glance

Company: American Booksellers AssociationCEO: Avin Mark Domnitz
Headquarters: Tarrytown, NY
Key trade titles: Bookselling This Week, Publishers Weekly, Shelf Awareness, publications from Canadian Booksellers Association
Comms budget: Undisclosed
Communications team: Meg Smith, CMO

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