Think globally, buy locally

<p>There is something of Catherine Ryan Hyde's novel <i>Pay it Forward</i> in the IndieBound initiative which has just launched in the UK. Just as small acts of neighbourly kindness filter out across the States in that story, so a movement that began with independent bookstores in the US has now spread to other independent retailers and has leapt across the Atlantic. Furthermore, it is about to be adopted by independents in Australia and New Zealand, and in a short space of time its &quot;Eat Sleep Read&quot; message has achieved a kind of classic status, sending &quot;Bookaholism&quot; and its attendant debate into the returns bin and arguably appearing far cooler than Waterstone's &quot;Feel Every Word&quot;.</p>
<p>Indeed, the IndieBound initiative has made independent bookshops seem more relevant than ever. It recognises and emphasises their position at the heart of local communities and ties in perfectly with a selection of hard to summarise movements and lifestyles, among them, go local, organic, farmers' markets, eco-friendly, environment, and diversity.</p>
<p>IndieBound attempts to make customers think about the consequences of their actions&mdash;that if they want a vibrant high street then they have to use it&mdash;and points out that a greater proportion of money spent in a local business, as opposed to a national business, stays in the community. This is based on US research and while it may be devilishly hard to prove, it does give independents a kind of moral upper hand and something to shout about. Additionally, the idea of using one's local store, rather than driving to an out-of-town retail park, ties in perfectly with environmental concerns and the whole mood of austerity gripping the nation.<br />
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Quirky and different</b><br />
Some 210 UK independents have signed up for the initiative and received their starter packs, and the response has been among the most positive the Booksellers Association (BA) has ever known. &quot;We've heard from bookshops we've never heard from before,&quot; says Meryl Halls, the BA's head of membership services. &quot;That has been incredibly gratifying.&quot; <br />
Indies are unstinting in their praise. The new BA president, Jane Streeter of The Bookcase in Lowdham, Nottinghamshire, said: &quot;I love it. It's taken us a while to get to this point, but we're all very excited. We're holding off putting things out until Independent Booksellers Week, but we're delighted&mdash;it's so quirky and different.&quot;</p>
<p>Janet Smyth at Blast-Off Books in Linlithgow in Scotland says: &quot;I think it's great. It's such a simple scheme but potentially so effective. You can customise the material for yourself, and we'll be doing that, but we'll also be using the American ideas too&mdash;they've pioneered a pile of really good posters and lines. We like their picture of a single candle, with the line &lsquo;A scented candle never changed anyone's life', the idea being that a book can. We used that for Mother's Day because a scented candle is such an obvious buy.&quot;</p>
<p>Andrew Cant, owner of Simply Books in Bramhall, Cheshire, agrees. &quot;It's a great initiative, a great platform,&quot; he says. &quot;I love the material and I love the hand-outs. We're using the &lsquo;credit cards' and the bookmarks, and putting our own stickers on them, and we're also using the Eat Sleep Read and Snack Nap Read posters. These are bold, bright, simple messages&mdash;the customers like them and talk to us about them. There's a feeling that you are supporting something which is growing.&quot;</p>
<p>A main benefit of IndieBound for Roland Abram of the Harbour Bookshop in Dartmouth is that the emphasis on community can be used to combat e-tailers and supermarkets. &quot;Someone enquired about a book the other day and when I said I could order it and it was this price, they said &lsquo;oh I can get that from Amazon',&quot; he says. &quot;We get people asking for a pen and paper all the time and writing down titles so that they can go home and order from Amazon. So IndieBound is ideal because it gives us something to say to people&mdash;it gives us reasons to feel good.</p>
<p>&quot;The &lsquo;Here's what you just did' flyers talk about the money being kept in the local community and how you've helped the environment because you haven't driven to an out-of-town retail park. We've got to emphasise these points. I think people realise that it's gone too far now. Without a doubt there's a &lsquo;go local' mood in the air. Whether it will make a difference I don't know&mdash;the supermarkets are so powerful.&quot;<br />
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<b>Community </b><br />
IndieBound grew out of the American Booksellers Association's Booksense programme and was launched in 2008, with the &quot;spirit lines&quot;, such as &quot;Eat Sleep Read&quot;, being created by the South Carolina-based &quot;identity company&quot; Brains on Fire. &quot;There were lots of &lsquo;buy local' movements launching in the US at the same time,&quot; says Halls. &quot;IndieBound was both about a positive celebration of the independent sector and also about independents connecting with other independents and educating consumers about the health of the community.&quot;</p>
<p>Halls first heard about it in detail at the ABA's Winter Institute meeting in Salt Lake City in January 2009 and, like an explorer of old returning with treasures from the new country, she told the board of the Independent Booksellers Forum (the BA's indie shops wing) which reacted positively.</p>
<p>The ABA's membership and marketing officer Meg Smith was invited to the IBF Conference in Warwick that summer where she placed a &quot;Liberation Box&quot; sent to participating US indies at the front of the stage. After she finished speaking, the box was virtually mobbed by booksellers interested with the scheme.</p>
<p>But do such schemes make a difference? According to a survey of more than 1,800 US independent businesses, including bookshops, conducted by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, &quot;buy local&quot; movements such as IndieBound were certainly effective last Christmas. Independent retailers in 100 cities that had active &quot;think local&quot; campaigns reported an average increase in holiday sales of 3%, compared to 1% for those in cities without such campaigns.</p>
<p>Gayle Shanks of Changing Hands in Tempe, Arizona, says: &quot;I don't think we would be as healthy and profitable today if we hadn't started proselytising to our community and helping them see how important both we and their dollars staying in the local community are to them. We partner with other indies every chance we get and the payback is absolutely huge.&quot;</p>
<p>Patrick Neale of Jaff&eacute; &amp; Neale in Chipping Norton has presented the scheme to his local Chamber of Commerce and sees it as tying in with Chipping Norton's status as a &quot;Transition Town&quot;&mdash;the name given to those locations pledging to reduce their dependence on oil and become more environmentally friendly.</p>
<p>&quot;We hosted the original Transition Town meeting in our shop and although this was coincidental with IndieBound starting, it shows that there is a feeling against big business and travelling miles and miles to shop,&quot; says Neale. &quot;I love the &lsquo;This is the part where I save the day' T-shirts which we have with our branding on the arm. The next step is for the Independent Booksellers Forum to be more collaborative, to share ideas and to promote one another.&quot;<br />
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<b>Diverse membership</b><br />
The BA has to tread more carefully with the initiative than its US counterpart since it cannot be seen to be supporting any negative views members may have about another retailer. Supermarkets and chains are members of the BA, unlike the US where the ABA is purely for independents.</p>
<p>Matthew Clarke at the Torbay Bookshop in Paignton is enthusiastic about the scheme too, but thinks it has moved on from its original premise. &quot;When it was launched in the States, it was all about the chains and Walmart. But now, for me, the biggest threat in the UK is the internet. It isn't just independents that need protecting&mdash;it's the whole high street itself.&quot;</p>
<p>Publishers find themselves in a difficult position here since no customer is growing faster than Amazon. Yet they can't be seen to be ignoring independents. Certainly, the Independent Alliance publishers recognise that some titles are perfect for independents and in fairness, Halls has been invited to speak to Random House reps about IndieBound.</p>
<p>Halls now plans to take the scheme to a second stage with an IndieBound Summer Reading booklist, chosen by independents themselves, and this year's Christmas Books catalogue branded IndieBound. There is also talk of an Independents Day and Gardners is planning to rebrand its bookseller loyalty scheme as part of the IndieBound family.<br />
The hero of Pay it Forward is asked to come up with a scheme to make the world a better place. IndieBound seeks to show that the high street already is a good place&mdash;but that it may not remain so forever. <br />
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<p><b>Britain's got indiebound </b></p>
<p>IndieBound UK was launched in the last week of April with around 210 BA members registered with the scheme getting point-of-sale material, including bookmarks, paperbags and campaign materials.</p>
<p>A website, <a href="http://www.indiebound.org.uk">www.indiebound.org.uk</a> also went live in April. The alrgely trade-facing site has p.o.s. for downloads; sales charts; links to likeminded non-book trade organisations such as the Rural Shops Alliance and Record Store Day; and resources such as guides for shps to use Twitter and a &quot;PR primer&quot;. Social networking features include Who's Reading What, reviews by booksellers, and What's Selling Where, in which a featured bookshop reveals its top 10 for the week.</p>
<p><b>Close to home<br />
</b></p>
<p>The &quot;go local&quot; movement, a counterpoint to globablisation, started primarily with a focus on locally sourced food and has driven the growth of farmers' markets, but has soon expanded to include a range of initiatives to combat climate change, encourage sustainability and support local communities. IndieBound was one of the US &quot;buy local&quot; projects that has emerged from the movement.</p>
<p>In the UK, the vanguard of the movement is the Transition Town concept, which looks at across-the-board energy reduction schemes in the economy, health services and education to improve a community's sustainability. There are currently 110 official Transition Towns in the UK and 65 &quot;mulling&quot; transition status, according to charity Transition Network.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p>
<p>The movment started in Kinsale, Ireland, with Totnes in Devon the first UK town to adopt the concept in 2005. In 2007, Totnes even introduced the Totnes Pound, a &quot;local currency&quot; scheme to boost spending in the community's independent shops.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p>
<p>&quot;There is not a day that goes by that I am not asked about them,&quot; says Nigel Jones, manager of The Totnes Bookshop, one of five indie bookshops in the town. &quot;I'm not sure from a bottom line perspective how well they are doing overall. But what they do is get people thinking about spending locally, and the benefits go beyond the actual revenue the Totnes Pounds generate.&quot;</p>
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