In this day and age of the big-box bookstore, eBooks, and sites like Amazon it’s hard for the normal brick-and-mortar bookstore to compete. In terms of pricing it’s nigh on impossible to compete. In order to keep the customers coming in the store has to provide a service that a huge store like Barnes-and-Noble or Amazon can’t. The major service, in my opinion, is a sense of community. I mentioned this in my previous article about comic book stores and the advent of digital comic distribution, and it holds true for all bookstores. The release of the final Scott Pilgrim book shows how a bookstore can build a sense of community. Stores all over North America held parties to celebrate the release. At midnight on release day copies were being handed out.
I went to a book release party for this in Toronto, which was organized by The Beguiling, the bookstore where Mr Lee-O’Malley worked while he began the series. I’d never been to a book release party before. I know that many bookstores held them for the release of the Harry Potter books, but I avoided those. The two bars and the restaurant closest to The Beguiling also got in on the act, hosting parties, having DJ’s playing the soundtrack for the forthcoming movie, and holding costume contests. By most accounts about 2000 people showed up. The street was completely shut down from about 9pm until midnight, when the book was actually released. There were fans of the series wandering, having fun, lots were dressed up as characters. The only time I have ever seen this kind of anticipation of a book release was for the later Harry Potter novels. This was the same atmosphere, but with fewer pointy hats and most of the attendees were able to drink.
The Beguiling is a store that knows its audience and loves its audience. You can tell this from the fact that they put on this event. All of the staff were there and although they were working (and working really hard, at that) you could tell that they were having a good time. Attendees at the party were greeting (and being greeted by) the staff by name. The staff wanted to be there. That’s part of what made the street party great. It was put on by a bookstore that wanted to be doing it. It wasn’t just doing it for money, to increase sales, but to build the community and bring it together. No longer were the Scott Pilgrim fans isolated individuals or small groups of friends. Instead, on the eve of the end of the series, a store brought them all together and allowed them to celebrate as a united group. It’s even more fitting that this was the store that had such deep ties to the series right from the outset. Brian Lee-O’Malley even showed up to sign stuff for fans. I got my copy and left just after midnight, but I heard that he was there signing books and posters until almost 3am. That’s a man dedicated to his fans, and the store that made that possible showed that they are just as dedicated.
While waiting in line for my copy of the book I couldn’t help but overhear conversations going on around me. People were talking about what a great store the Beguiling is. I heard one guy say to his friend that he’d never been to the store before, but was definitely going to be going in the next day to pick up a few items he wanted. Plenty of people talked about how they had been thinking about ordering their copies off of Amazon but decided that they wanted to come to the street party instead and get a copy at midnight.
Value-added. That’s huge in any retail environment. You take a product and you add something to the purchase of it to make people buy it from you. That’s what the Beguiling did. It took a product and it added value to it. In this case that added value is a sense of community and an opportunity to go to a party.