The online community is a vibrant gathering place for supporters of indie retail businesses. Those who register for the community can share information about indie retailers (including locations and specialties), comment on community issues, offer book recommendations, and exchange personal communication. Visitors are encouraged to add stores to the national indie retailer map, to become fans of stores, and to connect with like-minded indie enthusiasts.
"The mission of the IndieBound.org Community is to help people across the U.S. share and find great independently owned businesses," said ABA Chief Marketing Officer Meg Smith. "By connecting indie-conscious people with local businesses, we're working to strengthen the health of Main Streets. Thriving local economies make for sustainable communities and happy residents." Smith stressed that the community site is "a work in progress. We're planning on rolling out new features and new content on a regular basis over the next six to 12 months."I blogged about this earlier and threw the idea out on the SPI Forum to mixed reviews, although I was pleased to see there does exist a modicum of interest in starting some kind of an Independent Business movement.
I was pleasantly surprised. Some time ago, I suggested my preference upon the arrival of a Tuesday Morning, while welcome, for an independent specialty shop that would offer a variety of housewares and gift items selected specifically for our community and which would add to the overall image and character of the Island. Most of the response on the SPI Forum was in favor of franchise, brand-name, retail establishments. The general consensus seemed to be a desire for recognized businesses where the merchandise or service provided is standardized and the consumer knows what to expect because the corporate ownership allows for less variety between stores. I must admit to a sense of discouragment at this attitude since I had felt the residents of South Padre Island would be more eclectic in their attitudes.
In all fairness, part of what may have influenced the attitude which I observed in response to my plea for the indie retailer, is the general lack of availability of many goods and services on the Island, and so even if the provider is a franchise, the ability to find what one needs without leaving the Island is certainly attractive.
The part of the Indiebound community which makes it different than most programs rolled out by the ABA, is its focus on all community independent businesses, not just bookstores. And this is consistent with the idea of booksellers as an integral part of a community. What it provides to South Padre Island businesses is access to another national demographic, which may not have been reached by the town's more conventional advertising without any additional expense. Furthermore, the concept is driven by personal recommendations from consumers - so if a business does not provide quality goods or services, they will probably not have many fans or positive comments.
Users who have created accounts can do a number of things:
- Post comments on retail stores, whether it be a review of each store, a personal experience there, some recommendations -- anything that can help other people learn more about that store;
- Edit existing stores to add more information -- store hours, pictures of the store, etc.;
- Add interest tags both to their own accounts and to stores ... tags like "Southern literature" or "vegan" help connect users and stores, and help everyone discover new things;
- Become fans of stores they know and love -- so that other people can find stores through their user profile;
- Add new stores -- great indie retailers they're familiar with; and
- Add other users as friends, and leave notes for other users.