cory doctorow

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[This is the last in a series of posts about social media and bookselling — at least for the time being. You can read the original post, about the reasons indie retailers need to engage with their customers online and how to begin, here and second, about how social media needs to be personal and not corporate spin, here.]

Your personal and professional success is tied to your reputation. We may not realize it, but we live in a reputation economy. We may have qualifications and exams and grades and all the statistics and data you could ever want, but reputation trumps everything — that’s why we ask for (and call) references before hiring anyone.  Social media builds reputation (for good or ill). In fact, social media can enhance your reputation in ways it wasn’t possible to before.

You might be a book buyer at a medium-sized store in a moderate-size city. You sales reps might know you have an uncanny gift to pick the season’s great reads, your regulars might have a sense that they always find good books on display in your store, and your co-workers might think highly of your opinion, but while that’s a good reputation, it’s a very localized reputation, with very localized rewards.

No bullIn another scenario, you might buy books for your store, write a weekly column on great new books for the store’s email newsletter, post it on your store or personal blog, tweet about it, link to it on your (or your store’s Facebook page), but that would only be half the story. In this scenario, what you’ve been doing up to this point is broadcasting. Yes, your reviews and opinions are being seen by more people than in the first example, but they have no more weight than all the other reviews and opinions out there. You might be using some of the tools of social media, but you haven’t been using it to be social. This is broadcast, the old way of doing business, the media part of social media.

The social part starts when you enter into conversations sparked by your broadcasts. That’s why blogs have comments (if you turn them on). That’s why people get on Facebook or use Twitter. If you’re not exchanging opinions with people through these electronic forums, you’re not being social.

Social media means that at each step, you have the opportunity to enter into conversations with people interested in the books you’re recommending. This is no different to the conversations you might have in your store with customers, except that these are public conversations, taking place on Twitter, in blog comments or wall-to-wall on Facebook and thus they have the potential to influence far more people than you could before. Now, assuming your store has ecommerce, your recommendations will have the potential to bring sales to your store from outside your area.

Taking it one step further, if you regularly livetweet your events, you now have an additional reason for publicists to send their A-list authors to your store: your ability to inform and influence more than just the customers who walk through your doors. Assuming you are proactive in friending local people on Facebook, following locals on Twitter, and commenting on blogs you admire (both book- and locally focused — nobody likes a monomaniac, which is why this is my last social media post for a while) you’ll be introducing yourself and your store to new potential customers. Significantly, many of these local customers will be people who were exposed to your previous advertising and branding (your physical store and any old-media advertising/outreach you do locally) and were not converted.

When you think about it, you’re not necessarily having to write more than you already did to recommend books to your customers. You can take the same newsletter reviews, the same staff reviews you now write on bookmarks in the store, the same event copy you prepare for the event listings in your local paper, and use the tools of social media to get that writing in front of more people than before — leveraging benefiting from the ease of interaction and retransmission of info online to generate new conversations about those books/events with new customers.downout

So get online and enhance your reputation (and/or your store’s reputation) and bring in some extra sales.

Cory Doctorow did a lot to spread the idea of the reputation economy with his debut novel, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. If you could never, not ever, read a business book, you should check out Down and Out for the wealth of ideas about social networks and society (and it’s a fast, fun story, too).

Last year, I read Cory Doctorow’s provocative collected essays on copyfighting, eInk and everything to do with the Internet, Content, and I’ve been thinking back over it and the issues involved quite a lot since then. Among other things, Doctorow certainly raises some questions in my mind about what exactly the typical bookstore will look like in 5 or 10 years. (Indeed, I think of this blog as being partially a result of the metaphorical kick in the pants Doctorow’s book gave me.)

My take on our collective future after reading Content is that if bookstores are around as a third place, they’ll probably be as much virtual as physical, with our role as booksellers morphing into ubercool facilitators of chatspace, book group discussion leaders, and witty remixers of text, creating one-of-a-kind memes to monetize as T-shirts, mugs, bumper stickers, animated smileys for MyFace pages (I jest, MySpace & Facebook will probably be long gone), etc. All meatspace book discussion may be fueled by high-priced, literary themed caffeine shots — and the caffeine may be the primary thing customers come into the bricks-n-mortar store in search of. Book shopping may be actively moving to primarily online activity (i.e. the researching, interacting with booksellers and ordering may all ultimately occur online (digitally mediated by text, email & tweet), the book pick up achieved at the same time readers perform their ritual caffeine worshiping on the way to work, and their post-perusal hit of book talk will be realized on their blog or through the bookstore’s online discussion group/listserv/MyFace pages). (Yes, ebooks will have a large part in any bookseller’s future, but that’s an issue that needs its own post.)

Thankfully, Doctorow doesn’t predict a disappearance of the physical book, nor the bookstore itself. Instead, he sees the book as being more of a raw material for social connection (along with TV, movies, gaming, etc.), something to be read, then commented upon, remade as an online video, adapted for a skateboard design theme, and blogged about, excerpted as an email signature, and used in ways we haven’t thought of yet. This is how we’ve always used culture, it’s just on a different scale now because of the ease of creation and sharing made possible by the worldwide web. So you can look at it as technology rescuing the book from being a marginalized, fairly exclusive product — one too often placed on a pedestal. Perhaps the power of the web could rescue the book from (relative) obscurity (when compared to movies or TV), but change the reverence with which it’s often treated. Which I think suggests that the bookstore as a relatively separate, peaceful place (or place to find A Separate Peace) will change dramatically, both in terms of the physical use of the space and also in terms of the disappearance of clear boundaries between the store and the rest of the world.

You can download the book for free from the author’s website, but I suspect you’ll want to make notes, dog-ear pages and generally engage with the text, so I urge you to support both your local indie bookstore and Cory Doctorow by buying a physical copy.