Marketing Reading in the 21st Century: Bookstores and Libraries

Article excerpt

The marketing of libraries and bookstores in the 21st century as an idea, a belief and a social characteristic is little different to the marketing of them in past centuries. Whilst we would be forgiven for thinking that these are times of great threat to the book and the traditional environments in which books have been housed and through which books have been sold, we must understand our unique place in the community and market ourselves accordingly. It is important to identify again exactly who you are and what your working environment is about, thereby coming to view the marketing of bookstores and libraries as simply showcasing your passion for books. Edited version of a paper given at the Alia public libraries conference Melbourne 12-15 November 2001

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Marketing reading in the 21st century faces the same challenge as in previous centuries--how do you market an idea, a belief, a social characteristic? Is not the written word beyond marketing? It is the human soul, the human mind, the human experience. Moreover, if an individual does not intuitively know this and have reading as part of the life blood, would not marketing it simply be beyond their comprehension? Any number of studies have been conducted over time (the latest only published in September 2001 by the Australia Council) and any number of essays written on what makes a reader. They all conclude that reading is invariably personal and intimate, the reasons for engaging in it equally personal, and trying to apply fixed or scientific activities to promote it for those who do not undertake reading is at best going to be scattered and at worst completely without response or of only limited success.

If booksellers and librarians understand this about reading and readers, they will understand that their institutions have to mirror this--be personal, human, eclectic. Once this is acknowledged, they know what it is exactly they are marketing.

History

If you read the history of the printed word and the various people associated with it, you will quickly discover that booksellers and librarians have at times been similar and at others--such as in our more recent history of the last century--quite different in their approach to the housing and accessibility of books. In the last five years we are again coming closer together, perhaps without realising it, in the way we offer our services to the reader. It would seem that we both have recognised the benefits of each other's particular strengths and adopted them to a point where one will be almost interchangeable with the other. While booksellers realised that their customers, unlike other retail customers, wanted a genuine connection with their bookseller on various levels, librarians realised that they needed to hone their skills of presentation and effectively market themselves to their communities. Examples of both are the introduction of chairs and tables into bookstores, and the inclusion of merchandising principles in libraries. What brought about this change? For bookstores, it was the increasing awareness of shopping as an experience and not simply the accrual of products. For libraries it was the biting of economic rationalism into government instrumentalities. Both are in themselves probably abhorrent to most of us. However if we can look beyond them and indeed back to the fundamental reason for our existence, we can see them as freeing us from the recent, set, notions of how we function and what we offer, to a state that is far superior and in fact `marketable'.

These four elements are Personal/Personnel, Conversions, Loyalty, and Vision.

Personal/personnel

So many quotes over time pertaining to books and reading identify the human element.

   We read to know we are not alone

   The contents of someone's bookcase are part of his history, like an
   ancestral portrait

   A good book is the precious life blood of a master spirit

It is this notion of reading as fundamental to who we are that drives many of us to working with books. …