Indie Bookstores of New York City

A blog about Independent Bookstores in NYC and how they are surviving in the digital age

Category: Technology

On the Use of Book Trailers

A couple years ago, I was introduced to the idea of a book trailer – a short video used to advertise a new book much in the same way a movie trailer advertises an upcoming film. Ideally, a book trailer will generate the appropriate awareness and hype and encourage consumers to make the purchase. I recently stumbled across an article weighing the pros and cons of making such a trailer. Author Marisol Dahl discusses the use of the book trailer as “a natural marketing tactic” in the digital age. However, she states that a book trailer might not be the correct choice for everyone.

On the one hand Dahl says that book trailers are great because they are visually engaging, easily sharable, and more likely to pay-off in the long-run, as they will “live as long as [they are] online,” and “over time, [they] can continue to introduce new potential readers to [the] work.” On the other hand, however, she says that their quality is often compared to that of movie trailers and so “a good book trailer involves a huge investment of time, money, and skill.” Dahl also makes the argument that some people are still wary of book trailers because it is akin to “seeing the movie before reading the book” and destroys the possibility for the reader to form their own conceptions of the fictional world. Finally, Dahl suggests that determining the return on investment of a book trailer is difficult, as it may not reach its target audience even if it gains a significant number of views.

Perhaps the element that struck me most about this article is the fact that the literary world is still largely skeptical of the digital age for use in promoting their largely un-digital products (e-books being the exception). That using a book trailer to promote a book somehow feels like cheating or that it destroys the experience of reading by eliminating the possibility for the reader’s own imagination feels counter-intuitive to the over-arching feeling of limitless creativity that has generally accompanied the digital age. Below is one example of a book trailer that seems to walk the line between both worlds:

In this trailer, the visual references to physical books fuse together the world of digital animation as a means of promotion and the world of print to which the trailer is connecting. Additionally, the paper animation, while visually engaging, does not detract from the reader’s ability to imagine the world of the novel because of its simplicity.

In thinking about how the use of video could connect back to independent bookstores, the idea of creating a “bookstore trailer” seemed appealing. Instead of being used to promote specific books, these short videos could be used to showcase what the bookstore is all about including capturing the atmosphere, the events, and the people who visit. Some bookstores such as the Powerhouse Arena and WORD have already made use of this technique. Thoughts?

 

For Marisol Dahl’s full article click here.

Quoted Material from: http://thewritelife.com/are-book-trailers-a-marketing-must-have/

Video Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F_jyXJTlrH0

The Drama Book Shop

Name: The Drama Book Shop, Inc.Drama Book Store Cropped

Location: 250 West 40th Street, New York, NY 10018

Website: http://www.dramabookshop.com

Description: When you walk into the Drama Book Shop, the storefront and entryway resemble more that of a prop store than a bookstore. The large storefront windows, do not display books, but instead showcase small scenes with poster advertisements for the show from which that scene is taken. Drama Book Store WindowThe dimly lit store is split into two sections separated by information desks and a low overhang covered in old props and posters. The front section contains theatre themed knickknacks, CDs, and instructional books on topics such as “Technical Design Solutions for Theater” and “The Backstage Handbook.” The second section, tucked in the back of the store, houses a wide selection of plays of every genre, period, and style. It is in this section of the store that you become aware of the odd linoleum-esq floor patterns in retro, 1970’s style colors, which somehow seem to match the wide assortment of brightly colored plays that line the shelves.

IMG_6477What I like: This little store has a lot to offer for both literature and drama enthusiasts alike. While the Drama Book Shop does target a niche market, they do a good job of having a little something for everyone else too. The wide variety of plays they have for sale means there is something that will appeal to all of their customers. They also provide resources for actors looking for agents and potential auditions, and they sell a decent selection of musical theater sheet music for singers. For those that don’t like to read plays, they have a small selection of performances on DVD as well as soundtracks from many different musicals. However, what I liked the most about this store was the sense of community that I felt walking through. The store provides ample seating for customers who just wish to come in and read, and every one of the chairs was occupied. There were also groups of friends who had met there to talk and work on projects. Additionally, all of the stores part-time staff work in the theater world meaning that they are knowledgeable about the subject matter and the store is helping to support the theater community in multiple ways.

One example of "they have something for everyone." Plus who can resist a good pun, especially when it combines Shakespeare and Star Wars.

One example of “they have something for everyone.” Plus who can resist a good pun, especially when it combines Shakespeare and Star Wars.

How they are combating the pressures of the digital age: Down in the basement of The Drama Book Shop is the Arthur Seelen Theater – a small blackbox theater named after one of the owners of the store. This theater houses about 60 people and is rented out for performances. However, there is no mention of the space on the bookstore’s website. The Drama Book Shop also recently started selling plays and e-books on their website, though in many ways, this store still seems largely untouched by the digital world. They do have two social media accounts Facebook and Twitter. Their Facebook page is largely used to promote store events and they are relatively active on Twitter by retweeting posts with mentions in them, though they do not post much original content on this platform. They also have a blogger page, but that has not been updated since 2013. It seems to me that the community fostered by this bookshop in the acting and theater world is one of the store’s most important elements and one of the reasons it doesn’t seem to have made a full transition to the digital world.

 

Note: In doing a bit of background research on the store, I came across this article, which discussed the fact that in 2011 the store was given the Tony Honors for Excellence in Theater. This article also provides some interesting background on the store’s history as well as some of the source material for this post. I highly recommend checking it out here!

Can Video Games Help Independent Bookstores Adapt to the Digital Age?

While searching for new ideas on bookstores and the digital world, I came across this article entitled, “Appetite for Risk: At the Intersection of Video Games and Literature.” In the article, author Maxwell Neely-Cohen addresses the idea that the world of video games and the world of literature are more similar than people would think, and that the two industries can benefit from shared ideas and influences. The author states that:

We should be making novels into video games, video games into novels. Publishers should collaborate with indie game developers, trading them a platform and content in exchange for labor and a new form of adaptation. Literary magazines and libraries should sponsor gamejams. The games industry should fully embrace the thousands of works of classic literature open to them in the public domain.”

As someone who enjoys both video games and books, the concept of these seemingly different forms of entertainment intermingling and helping each other is appealing. While I play all different types of video games, I am always more engaged in games that have strong, unique plots and well-written dialogue. While the game mechanics are important, I would rather play a game with sub-par controls and graphics as long as the plot is compelling. In terms of how literature could benefit from a partnership with the gaming industry, I think the author creates a strong argument. He says:

“The book publishing industry needs to carve out a more interesting, necessary space for itself in the digital world. All too frequently “technology” is considered one big amorphous blob, or worse, treated with indifference. Barely enhanced e-books, predictably executed apps, and promotional Twitter accounts for dead or Luddite authors seem to represent the extent of most publishers’ innovative efforts. Even in terms of pure content, contemporary fiction too often fails to fully evoke 21st-century life and contend with its burgeoning issues. We writers disproportionately focus on the past, or worse, replicate the form and structures of centuries gone without appetite for the risk, resistance, and failure innovation entails.”

So how does this article relate to bookstores in the digital age? Though the author is focused solely on the relationship between games and books, I think his suggestion that the book publishing industry doesn’t know how to handle the digital age is relevant to the struggle facing independent bookstores. The author suggests at the end of the article that applying gaming concepts and technology to literature could create a new, innovative form of art, however my question is if bookstores can also harness this innovation. Is there a way for independent bookstores to incorporate forms and functions of video games into their marketing and sales tactics? How could these tactics encourage consumers to purchase books? I’m not sure I have answers to these questions, but one thought would be perhaps making use of virtual reality gaming technology and enticing customers to come to in-store events where you could “live” in your favorite book. I would love to hear if anyone else has thoughts on this! 

For text of full article click here.

Albertine

Name: Albertine

Location: 972 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10075Screen Shot 2016-06-22 at 11.37.52 PM

Website: http://www.albertine.com

Description: This little bookstore is easy to miss walking down 5th avenue. Located inside the historic Payne Whitney Mansion – currently home to the Cultural Services of the French Embassy – the only indication of the store’s existence is a tiny sign posted out front. Upon entering the building, you are greeted by a beautiful marble lobby, and a curious security guard, who will inquire as to where you are headed and ask you to please step through the metal detector to the left. Once through, you are free to walk to the back of lobby where a small glass door labeled “Albertine” awaits.

The store itself is quiet, except for the low hum of voices. The difference here is that almost everyone is speaking French. French books line the shelves, and two tables loaded with French books and English translations stand in the middle of the room. Off to the right a small staircase leads up to the second floor, which houses graphic novels, travel books, children’s books, books about art, and a striking ceiling mural depicting the planets and zodiac signs moving around the sun.

IMG_6415

What I like: As someone who studied French in undergrad, I was so excited to discover this bookstore, and it did not disappoint. While it does cater to a specific audience, the store carries several English translations of French books. This aspect makes the store more accessible for customers who are interested in French literature and culture, but who do not speak French themselves. Albertine also sells French editions of literature from other countries, and I was particularly excited to find a French edition of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. On the second floor, customers can also find a small glass–fronted case displaying rare French books, several of which are dated to the 18th century and earlier. Another enjoyable element of the store is that the floors are not crowded with tables selling

Works by Molière from 1781

Works by Molière from 1781

toys or other unrelated wares. Albertine simply sells books, which in combination with somewhat dim lighting, gives the store a library-esq feel.

How they are combating the pressures of the digital age: Albertine is run as “a project of the Cultural Services of the French Embassy.” Cultural Services provides support for Albertine’s events and literary discussions, and other support for the bookstore is provided through a small group of foundations, corporations, and individuals. Additionally, Albertine’s website contains an online store where customers can browse and purchase books in both French and English. Recently, Albertine also added EBooks to their online store in order to make French Literature more accessible. In the past, the store has even offered some of their events on Livestream so that customers can participate online. Finally, Albertine has a blog, and three different forms of social media pages – Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram – on which they post frequently.

The Strand

Name: The Strand

Location: 828 Broadway, Manhattan, NY 10003

Website: https://www.strandbooks.com/index.cfmScreen Shot 2016-06-22 at 11.38.28 PM

Description: The Strand is four floors of book-lover bliss. The main floor entrance, although jam-packed with Strand merchandise, houses a maze of shelves perfect for an intimate browsing experience reminiscent of exploring the stacks in a large library. Classical music plays on every floor, though it is often hard to hear above the chatter of the many customers and tourists that visit daily. A large staircase connects the basement to the second floor, but an elevator is required to get to the 3rd floor, which houses The Strand’s rare book collection. Stepping off the elevator is like stepping into a different store. The spacious room looks more like a museum than a bookshop, and the constant hum of human voices present on the lower levels disappears with the clattering of the elevator door. The classical music, which was so hard to hear on the other floors, creates a satisfying atmosphere for perusing the rare and antique texts. Leather bound books line the shelves and a glass case displaying particularly rare books covers one wall. Next to the counter stands a small vault, which houses some of The Strand’s most valuable books.

IMG_6220

What I like: It’s hard to find something not to like about The Strand however, I would say that the main floor does feel a bit commercial on entering and lacks the normal independent bookstore charm. That being said, I love the large selection of books available. The Strand seems to have anything you could ever want to read in any genre, including books in foreign languages, which has become one of my favorite sections to peruse. While the size of the store itself can be a bit overwhelming for browsing purposes, Screen Shot 2016-06-22 at 11.38.52 PM
the clearly labeled sections and picture coordinated maps located near each staircase help customers looking for specific genres, to navigate through the tightly packed shelves. However, The Strand’s large size and tall shelves do provide the perfect environment for those who simply want to wander and get lost among the books. The rare book room on the third floor is the standout feature of this bookstore. The entrance-by-elevator is a nice transition between the bustling floors below and the peaceful quiet of The Strand’s top floor. The rare book room also has chairs for those who wish to sit and enjoy the space and the books within, which is not a feature found on the other floors. IMG_6223With the exception of the checkout counter placed along the back wall of the room, exploring this portion of The Strand feels more like admiring a personal collection in a private library than shopping for books in a bookstore, but with the added perk that if you find something you like, you can purchase it and bring it home at the end of the day.

How they are combating the pressures of the digital age: The Strand is managing the digital age in a couple of interesting ways. Aside from the fact that they have a website and are fairly active on their six social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, YouTube and Pinterest), The Strand seems to have managed to blend books and digital culture in a way that appeals to a variety of audiences. In addition to selling Strand merchandise like t-shirts, tote bags, and mugs, the store sells a variety of other knick-knacks mostly located near the entrance, and at the top of each flight of stairs. In store, they also sell a small collection of vinyl, DVDs, and CDs.

The main floor is filled with Strand merchandise and other knick-knacks.

The main floor is filled with Strand merchandise and other knick-knacks.

Their website however is definitely tailored to the online shopper. Their main page has a menu bar that is broken down into different shopping categories and allows the reader to virtually browse The Strand’s wares, and purchase books and other items online, including a selection of texts from the rare book room. Another feature of the menu bar is the prominently placed “Staff Picks” link. I was happy to see this on the website, as this was not a feature in the physical store itself. There seemed to be a small staff recommendation shelf hidden on the second floor, but I was unable to find any others. Scroll further down on the main page and you will pass their events section, which consists of a variety of readings and book talks on every subject from Oscar Wilde to “Bad Advice from Bad Women: Riotous Readings from Wild Minds.” Scroll down further and you will find two sections, which are aimed at countering the digital age. The first section is “lower priced than E-books” and the second is called “the book was better.” These two sections are brilliant in terms of encouraging customers to purchase the physical book. The first section demonstrates that E-books are not always cheaper than their print counterparts, while the second section challenges the customers to read the book and decide for themselves whether or not it was better than the film. Finally, The Strand has a couple smaller locations including a Kiosk in Central Park (60th Street and 5th Avenue) and a temporary pop-up shop that just opened in Times Square (44th and Broadway) last Thursday. These small locations are perfect for attracting the attention of passers-by and hopefully encouraging them to purchase a book. The Times Square location will also host a selection of literary events.

What is Independent Bookstore Day?

April 30, 2016 marked the date of the second annual Independent Bookstore Day.

Independent Bookstore Day 2016 logo

Independent Bookstore Day 2016 logo

What is Independent Bookstore Day? According to TimeOut Magazine, during this event “participating [bookstores] will offer special perks to customers for one day only, including exclusive limited-edition books and art pieces for both kids and adults.” The purpose of this event? To attract attention to independent bookstores nationwide and promote their importance in local communities, while increasing their sales and helping them grow. This year, several of New York City’s independent bookstores participated in the event, including Book Culture, which hosted an in-store, literary-themed cocktail happy hour. Additionally, as part of the day’s festivities, 20 independent bookstores in Brooklyn joined forces in the first-ever Brooklyn Bookstore Crawl, where participating customers meandered from bookstore to bookstore with a chance of winning prizes and hopefully purchasing some exciting new reads along the way.

In doing a bit of exploring on the background of this event, I was surprised to find that the official Facebook page directly address the digital culture. The page states:

“In a world of tweets and algorithms and pageless digital downloads, bookstores are not a dying anachronism. They are living, breathing organisms that continue to grow and expand. In fact, there are more of them this year than there were last year. And they are at your service.”

I think that the idea of Independent Bookstore Day is a great way to promote local bookstores and attract attention from bibliophiles and non-book-lovers alike. However, for me personally, I found out about this event too late to actually participate in any of the activities. I think bookstores really have an opportunity to leverage social media and use the digital sphere to bring customers back into stores. According to an article on shelf-awareness.com, social media did contribute to expanding the reach of the event to 25,000 people on Facebook and hashtags such as #bookstoreday were trending. That being said, reaching 25,000 people on Facebook is a nice start, but there is definitely room to grow considering the size of the Facebook population. In this instance, the digital world, which often seems so contrary to the world of print, can actually help expand the communities that form around these stores and maybe even create some new book lovers in the process. I’ll end with turning the question to my readers. Any thoughts?

 

In case any one is interested, here are the links to the articles:

Also for those who may want to participate next year:

Image Source: https://www.facebook.com/BookstoreDay

Book Culture

Name: Book Culture

Book Culture on Broadway, West 114th Street

Book Culture on Broadway, West 114th Street

Locations:

  • 536 West 112th Street
  • 2915 Broadway (at 114th Street)
  • 450 Columbus Avenue

Website: http://www.bookculture.com

Description: Book Culture on Broadway is a small independent bookstore on the corner of West 114th Street. Though this store is much smaller than its other locations, it offers a similar selection of books and other items to be browsed. A pleasant aroma permeates the air as customers peruse well-stocked shelves and display tables. Large storefront windows, allow the shop to get plenty of natural light, and provide an enticing display for passers-by. The store on 112th is perhaps a little harder to find, but a small sign placed on the corner of Broadway and 112th points curious pedestrians and other book-loving individuals in the right direction. Despite its larger size, the Book Culture on 112th provides just as intimate a book browsing experience as the smaller store on 114th. I have not yet visited the location on Columbus Avenue, but I am hoping to make a trip there soon.

Staircase in Book Culture on West 112th Street

Staircase in Book Culture on West 112th Street

What I like: Aside from the cozy atmosphere, Book Culture has several nice features that stand out. The first is that, as you peruse the books, you will see little notecards taped to some shelves. These notecards are staff recommendations and provide the customer with the book title, staff name, and a brief explanation of why they like the book. These recommendations range from new releases to classics and cover every genre, so there is something for everyone. I also like this feature because it demonstrates that the staff are just as interested in reading as the customers and it helps create a feeling of community within the store. Additionally, Book Culture sells a variety of products aside from books including backpacks, mugs, water bottles, and candles. Book Culture does a good job of choosing objects that relate to books and those who read them.

Paddywax Library Candles with scents inspired by authors such as Oscar Wilde, Edgar Allan Poe, and Jane Austen

Many of their non-book wares also have literary themes such as coasters, mugs, t-shirts, and socks made by a New York City based company called Out of Print that creates their designs by using cover art from classic books. I also like that they have these other items scattered throughout the store instead of placing them in one corner because it enhances the browser experience. For example, in the store on 114th, they sell kitchen items, which are placed near the cookbooks.

How they are combating the pressures of the digital age: Book Culture appears to be managing well during the age of E-books and Amazon. They not only have three store locations, but have established a website where they sell books and other book- related products such as literary t-shirts and tote bags. Book Culture also carries the staff recommendations from store to website, creating a continuity of ideas between their online presence and physical presence. The recommendations also allow the website to maintain the small bookstore feeling, while appealing to a wider audience because of its place online. Additionally, the store has its own blog – easily accessible from their website – where they post about diversity in literature, community interests, and author Q & A’s. In the store on 112th, signs that explain the importance of supporting independent bookstores hang over some of the tables. The stores on 112th and Columbus Avenue also host numerous reading, signing, and discussion events with authors, which encourages readers to come to the physical stores instead of browsing online.

The Question: How are Independent Bookstore Surviving in the Digital Age?

Hi everyone! For my first post I thought I would set the scene for the question I will be addressing throughout my blog: How are independent bookstores surviving in a world that seems to become more and more digitalized each day? In doing a bit of preliminary research on this topic, I found two New York Times articles – one from 2011 and one from 2015 – that discuss this issue.

To briefly summarize: In the first article “Small Bookstores Struggle for Niche in Shifting Times” (January 23, 2011) author Julie Bosman speaks with the owners of several independent bookstores across the United States. The article addresses the different strategies these owners have used to keep their bookstores in business despite competition from sources such as Amazon and E-readers. Interestingly, however, the article also mentions the difficulties owners have had in learning how to promote their stores online in order to compete with other stores already selling products online. Bosman writes:“Owners are grappling with the new realities of online bookselling, Web design and the nuances of using social media for promotion.” Two owners suggested this struggle might be because the consumer mind-set does not recognize independent bookstores as online entities, making it difficult to attract consumer attention.

Conversely, in the second article, “The Plot Twist: E-book sales slip, and Print is Far From Dead,” (September 22, 2015) author Alexandra Alter provides an updated perspective on how consumer trends are starting to shift away from E-book sales and back towards print. The article states that, “the surprising resilience of print has provided a lift to many booksellers,” and suggests that E-reader sales may be declining because of the consumer’s preference for tablets and smartphones. Because of this decline, Alter states that, “Publishers, seeking to capitalize on the shift, are pouring money into their print infrastructures and distribution.” Additionally, Alter suggests that recent increases in the price of E-books have caused some readers to return to physical books. However, the author does state that, “The tug of war between pixels and print almost certainly isn’t over. Industry analysts and publishing executives say it is too soon to declare the death of the digital publishing revolution.”

What do these articles mean in terms of the future for independent bookstores? While it does seem that consumers currently prefer print, the second article makes clear that this might only be temporary, and could change when the next innovative piece of technology comes on to the market. Additionally, the manner in which these bookstores operate cannot be over-looked as an important factor when trying to determine their future. The first article mentions the use of cafes, toy sales, and instructional classes as a means of attracting a wider audience. Has the digital age made it impossible for bookstores to only sell books? I am curious to explore how many New York City independent bookstores sell other wares and also if these independent bookstores did ultimately make the successful transition to selling books online. If that is the case, are they selling E-books? Are there any patterns or commonalities amongst all of these stores? I hope you all enjoy delving into this topic with me as I explore New York City’s vast selection of independent bookstores. For those of you interested in the full articles, I have posted the links below!

 

Article 1: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/24/business/media/24indie.html?_r=0

Article 2: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/23/business/media/the-plot-twist-e-book-sales-slip-and-print-is-far-from-dead.html?_r=0

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