Okay, it's a trick question, and I haven't even asked it yet.
Is a bookstore blog the best solution for drawing more traffic to your website?
No. Bookstore blogs are an answer, not the answer, yet the question persists: Should your bookstore have a blog? In the right hands, bookseller blogs can be an effective asset, as Russ Marshalek of Wordsmiths Books, Decatur, Ga., showed us in last week's column and continues to prove with futureTense, an upcoming blog-themed event. Bookselling This Week recently offered an excellent blogging primer.
So, what should you do?
Consider a bit of (indirect) advice regarding the future of online bookselling from Douglas Adams, who once told us about two key words inscribed on the cover of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy "in large friendly letters":
Alice Meyer, owner of Beaverdale Books, Des Moines, Iowa, almost panicked, but she recovered nicely and offers an honest look at her concerns about blogging and online marketing, which mirror those expressed by many booksellers I've communicated with:
"Every time I see you have written something in Shelf Awareness, I panic, thinking: 'Oh god, he found my website and he's going to use us as an example of What Not to Wear.' I haven't seen anything I've been able to readily identify as ours yet, but it came pretty close to home when you wrote about getting rid of our Harry Potter party info. Guilty!
"Before I had a store (actually, 13 months ago), it really irked me when I would visit a website that was woefully out of date. What do these people do all day? I wondered. Well, I have been enlightened, as you would say in the Shelf. They probably own a 1,200-square-foot store which has one paid employee at a time working. Maybe the owner has a day job as well, and works for nothing at the store the rest of the time. This is what she does while she is there: buying, ordering, returns, payroll, setting up events, marketing (buying advertising, making signs, sending e-notices to the mailing list, getting on community calendars), bookkeeping, paying bills, going to the bank, speaking engagements, meeting with sales reps and vendors; all while the employees are selling books, talking with customers, receiving and shelving books, keeping the store clean (including the bathroom), leading discussion groups, setting up for book clubs, researching books for special orders . . . Well, you know the drill. The thing is, we love every single minute and every single duty. Except the bathroom one.
"And now we must have websites, MySpace pages, blogs and wikis. While I sometimes wonder how anyone got anything done before computers, it is sometimes hard to believe that they are the time-saving wonders we couldn't live without. Now I'm starting to sound like a geezer, but I'm not going to do an index card-based inventory system just to prove a point.
"So what is my point exactly? I'm not even sure anymore--just don't take away my POS, scanner, email, electronic ordering or anything else remotely digital! We're trying. We'll get there. And keep reminding us that our sites need refreshing, our blogs need updating and that Vicki-the-wiki is hungry. We know it's the way to do business. But if I have to make a choice between a possible virtual customer and one standing in front of me asking about the Redwall books, I gotta go with the live one. We really want to get to that place where we don't have to choose.
"I'm sure there are many other booksellers like me who feel like it's just one more thing in the ever-unending list of tasks we do. As a bookseller, I actually want to be selling books, but there is so much more to it than meets the eye, isn't there?"
And like any good bookseller, Meyer also did a little handselling: "While I'm at it, may I also comment on your column about [small press] authors? I think you hit the nail on the head with that one. I never realized how hard these fine folks had to work to promote their own books. Two of our favorite local handsells are Earthquake I.D. by John Domini (Red Hen Press, $20.95, 9781597090766/159709076X) and The Space Between by Kali VanBaale (River City Publishing, $23.95, 9781579660581/1579660584)."
Her email sign-off was a kind of mantra: "Keep up the good work . . . deep breath . . . send . . ."
One more time, the answer is: Don't Panic.