The Indies First Campaign

This Saturday, November 26, is Small Business Saturday. While big box stores may sell it cheaper and online sellers more conveniently, small businesses learn what their own community needs and offer personalized service and recommendations to help customers find what they need. And after a pandemic of depersonalization, that personal touch means more than ever.

Not only that, small businesses make our communities good places, replacing the banal sameness of much of our commercial landscape with unique storefronts and signage, walkability, and in many cases, offer gathering places for local events. Small businesses preserve and renew neighborhoods, so important to the fabric of our cities.

Independent bookstores are a big part of that landscape. While Amazon shut down its own attempt to launch brick and mortar stores and is scaling back it inventories of books, independent bookselling has been growing. Indie bookstores offer unique events for every age group and often are a place where new authors get to engage, in a live space, with potential readers and where people get to hear established writers talk about their works (and of course sell signed copies!).

And so it just makes sense that part of Small Business Saturday is the Indies First Initiative, which is now in its tenth year. This is an effort of the American Booksellers Association that begins with authors, encouraging them to volunteer as guest booksellers during Small Business. And it seeks to encourage those of us who buy books to turn to our local independent booksellers for those recommendations rather than a computer algorithm. Coming at the beginning of the holiday shopping season, the booksellers are glad to help you find just the right book for that favorite someone.

This effort was launched by First Nations author Sherman Alexie, who came up with the idea of writers volunteering as guest booksellers and also to link to indies to sell their books online. Over the years, the effort has enjoyed the advocacy of well-known spokespeople and authors including Roxane Gay, N.K. Jemisin, Dan Rather, Jason Reynolds and Cheryl Strayed. This year’s Indies First Spokesperson is Celeste Ng, whose Our Missing Hearts was reviewed at Bob on Books this week. You can view a video where she talks about Indies First. She summed up her appeal in a recent Tweet:

This Saturday, 11/26, is #IndiesFirst. And you know what makes a great holiday present? Books! If you’re not sure WHICH book, the real live people at your local independent bookseller can give you personal recommendations! Just stop in and ask them.

Celeste Ng

The IndieBound website makes it easy to find your nearest indie bookseller. Just type in your zip code, and it can help you find your nearest store in a 10, 50, or 100 mile radius. I even discovered a few nearby stores I did not know about.

So, if you are looking for books for yourself or someone else (or both) this weekend, shop Indies First. Many of the stores will have special events, even special discounts. The IndieBound website can help you find local store websites ahead of time to learn hours and of anything special going on. When you visit, you’ll meet fellow book lovers who care about connecting you with books you’ll love. You may even meet someone who writes books! And you’ll support the small business ecosystem that contributes to the flourishing of your community.

Visit Your Favorite Indie Bookstore This Saturday!

20170327_131427

The delightful children’s section at Gramercy Books, an independent bookseller in Bexley, Ohio.

This Saturday, April 29, would be a good day to visit your favorite independent bookstore. It is Independent Bookstore Day in the U.S. and at least 458 stores are participating according to Publishers Weekly.

Just to go on record, in case you haven’t noticed, I am a HUGE fan of indie bookstores–whether they are retail or re-sale. It’s not just that I like bookstores, but there are several things I especially like about independent booksellers. One is that they contribute to the fabric and cultural richness of our communities. Two is that they contribute to the relational richness of our communities. Independent booksellers livelihood depends on knowing their customers. I’ve been in some stores that have an atmosphere a bit like Cheers–everybody knows your name and they are always glad you are here. And finally, these booksellers help us connect both with the books we are looking for and the books that are looking for us.

Stores have come up with some novel attractions, according to the PW article. Brazos Bookstore in Houston is giving out Cormac McCarthy self-published coloring books. They come with two crayons–red and black. Parnassus Books, Ann Patchett’s store in Nashville promises, “a brand new, never before seen, original story created before your very eyes by Nashville’s finest literary talents!” In some cities, including Minneapolis and Chicago, indies are teaming up to offer discount programs tiered by how many stores you visit. One of the weirder giveaways at some stores are literary themed condoms (sigh…).

The real point of the day is to encourage people to visit and leave with books they and those they care for will love. For many stores, this day is like Christmas in April. What I hope it is for many of us is the first (or second or third) step in cultivating a habit. These stores won’t thrive if those of us who are book lovers simply say, “someone else will buy from them.”

Some of us may struggle with the bargain-hunter mentality that tries to find the book at its lowest price. In addition to the fact that this may tempt us to buy more books than we will read (guilty as charged), the care of selecting a book we will buy to read and keep may be another benefit of buying our books at stores that don’t buy in bulk.

Finally, most of these stores take orders over the phone or online. If you can’t go visit them this Saturday, why not support them this way? You might consider doing so early because it sounds like they could be busy on Saturday. For the love of books and for the health of our communities, let’s hope so!