Advertising in the Used Book World

Advertising in the Used Book World
Shane Gottwals
Gottwals Books
any idea what they sell in there?
any idea what they sell in there?
A recent article I wrote really got me to thinking about advertising and the small, independent bookstore.  Is it just my experience, but do you never see bookstores advertise in any sort of medium that people actually see?
I know that, obviously, direct sales for a used bookstore does not usually rank in the millions of dollars per year.  Also, in general, bookstores seem to become known amongst groups of readers almost by osmosis.  People talk, especially to their reading friends (with whom they swap books, sit in reading groups, etc.) whenever a bookstore comes to town.  Now, if you are going into a town that already has used bookstores, word of mouth might not be as effective.  We really got the towns that we’re in going primarily because there was such a need.
Let’s make this interesting and break down some costs for advertising.  Here are a few of the major ones and how much you’d be looking to spend per month:
Billboard: $800-1200+
Small, local magazine: $200-500
Radio: $350-600+
That kid’s yearbook: $150 (one-time fee with one-time viewership)
TV: Ouch
All of this is very general, of course, but we get the idea.  The difference that most of us would see when we’re comparing these media is the stark contrast between cost and number of “impressions.”
For instance, how many people the small, local magazine says receives their publication is going to be incredibly different than the number of people who actually turn to the page that your ad is on.  Plus, how many of those people will even care to read your ad?  How many ads do you read while flipping through a magazine, waiting for the doctor to see you?  So, while cheap, this mode is not effective.
The radio can be worthwhile only if you’ve got a catchy sound to play.  This is another one of those times, though, that you can’t go by how many people listen to the specific station on average each hour of the day.  Think about your own radio listening… do you spin the dial as soon as the commercials begin?  How easy is it to just click over to the next station?
I won’t even begin to discuss the yearbook thing… just don’t bother, unless you are related to whomever it is that comes.  Even then, you need to tell them that ads in yearbooks are not about advertising… they are about paying for the yearbook.  Plus, you don’t even get your own copy to keep!  (I’m not sure what I would do with a yearbook from some random public school, but I’m hoping that this makes sense.)
In my experience, billboards and TV are the best.  They are also the most expensive.  While I don’t want to make this into an advertising class, you need to know two things about billboards:
1. They only work when there are few words.
I’ve been driving past a billboard in my town for the past few weeks that I am simply disgusted by.  It is on a very busy street, directly on the way toward the interstate, and I’m not even sure what it advertises.  The only thing I can remember is that it says something like “Thank you, blah-blah.”
I think it is for some kind of contracting company.  I am pretty sure that every square inch of that billboard has at least 4 words on it.  It advertises absolutely nothing.  I know more about it than most anyone who drives past, and I know this because no one in their right mind would even begin to attempt to read it.  (This is proved by the fact that there have not been many wrecks at this area of the road.)
2. They only work when they are located in the direct path toward your store.
I know a company that has had a billboard on, again, a major road in my city.  It is a big, beautiful sign that is actually quite impressive.  The great news is that it advertises a store that is fifteen miles away.  Unless the sign says, “Free money!” no one is going to even think about that place by the time they are remotely close to its location.
Billboards are an impulse advertisement.  The advantage that we have in the book business is that bookstores are impulse-type stores.  What reader doesn’t want to stop into the used shop when they are driving around with time to spare?
TV advertising is fantastic when it’s on the correct station.  My representative for the station we work with says that the big cable companies will charge you a “dolla per holla.”  Basically, the cable reps can really make advertising look cheap and easy, only charging a few dollars per commercial, plus you get to pick the stations you know that your customers watch!
Honestly, this really does seem nice, but people have a crazy habit of ignoring commercials by changing the channel or leaving the room.
So, how is TV advertising EVER effective?
Well, you need to pick the type of shows that do not invite folks to flip through the stations.  For instance, I am spending a good deal of money right now advertising both stores (which is really great because it technically cuts my cost in half for the two places) 19 times in two weeks on my local news station.  Now, this is the station that I know has a higher income demographic(hence, they are more likely to be readers), and it is also the one with the greatest number of viewers.  It is very expensive to advertise during the news, but I was able to get a really good deal.
You rarely get feedback from your advertising (unless you ask for it… and that’s annoying to customers… the worst is when a store has a survey that asks, “How did you find out about us?”), but I have had numerous unsolicited comments about both our commercials and our billboard.  I have had out-of-towners say that the only reason they came to the store was because they saw our billboard.  That’s an awesome thing.
Remember, with it all, that it’s not always about the number of people that you see walk through the door during your advertising campaign.  Name recognition is a big part of having the community take you seriously.  But, you do want that to eventually lead to some sales…
Just remember that the best advertising works the greatest number of senses possible.  (Remember that “Wow!” is the sixth sense.)  This is why I like TV best; you have sight and sound (and, if you do a good job, the “Wow!”).
Also, internet advertising is almost worthless.  No explanation here; I just wanted to say it.
[editors note on image below: I added the images, this one below may be a little over the top but I couldn’t resist including it]

5 thoughts on “Advertising in the Used Book World”

  1. I’m going to disagree on the internet advertising is worthless comment, but I’m the one that writes all the articles here for how to advertise on the internet.

    Like radio and TV its really easy to change the channel. So a lot of internet advertising IS worthless. It’s just white noise. Very, very focused ads tied to the local area can be very cost effective however.

    For example, tying ads just to the local area can get them popping up on websites where people are checking the weather, local school schedule, movie times, where is the branch of that bank, etc. It is like the billboard in miniature. It reminds locals “oh yeah, I’ve been meaning to go there, I’ll stop while I’m running the errand I was already planning” or in the case of the guy checking the weather, may offer an alternate way to spend the afternoon now that it looks like Junior’s baseball game has been rained out.

    Broad based media blasts on the internet ARE worthless, just like advertising your business to every market in the US would be worthless. If you’re in California and you show the ad to someone in Montana, its a total waste of time. Ditto showing your ad to someone searching for hot pictures of the latest starlet’s panties. He’s not buying books.

    It is VERY easy to waste lots of money on internet advertising… but that’s the same of any advertising medium.

    • I agree with Nell, again. However, I don’t spend $$ on advertising; I just get us everywhere it’s free. Google is our best one. Most of our 2100 website hits came from them last year.

  2. I pay cash for used books in my store, so my advertising is just about that. It’s amazing the kind of results you’ll see from a little $200 one column-inch ad that says “CASH FOR BOOKS” and a website address and phone number.

    As far as internet advertising is concerned, I don’t think it’s always a waste. I use Facebook, which allows you to tailor who will see your ads so I can advertise only to the people who live in town or attend one of the local colleges. You can use all kinds of Facebook demographic data when you’re constructing the ads, too. For instance, people who identify as gay see ads about the store’s selection of GLBT books while Christians see that we’re the only store in town with used Christian books, and students see that we buy textbooks.

    In general I think that the article is correct that customers who actually want to shop in your store are going to hear about it though word-of-mouth.

  3. I love coming up with advertising campaigns. I hire student photographers to help with unique and zany photo shoots, and have some basic templates that I work from. I have a bit of a fanclub for my ads now – customers tell me that they clip them and put them on the fridge. We’re always thinking of the next ad campaign – we do TV, radio and newspaper ads on a regular basis, and get a fantastic response from radio, especially. We put a lot of thought into our ads, keep them simple and crisp, and rotate them regularly.

    My favourite form of advertising is community involvement. I volunteer my time, and have a collection jar for our local Literacy Group, donate gift certificates as prizes for all manner of things in the Arts Community (film festivals, draws at live theatre). I also donate gift certificates, books, bookmarks other items to schools for spelling bees, chess clubs, read-a-thons, and reading challenges. I am on the BIA, in the Chamber of Commerce, and go to meetings to let it be known that we are a serous member of the business community, and care about others and their well-being as well.

    I’m thinking about a bill board, I just have to get the right message first.

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