Changing Hands Opens to Page23 to Increase Readership

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Page23, a one-year-old project of Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe, Arizona, promotes reading among people who may reject traditional marketing approaches through specially selected title lists, displays, and other promotional materials. Primarily appealing to adults age 18 to 30-something, Page23 began as a response to the results of the 2005 National Endowment for the Arts report "Reading at Risk," which indicated a precipitous drop in reading among people in their 20s and 30s.

Cindy Dach, marketing director at Changing Hands, the 2007 Publishers Weekly Bookseller of the Year, chronicled the development of Page23 for BTW. "After reading the 2005 study, we were alarmed by the loss of readers," she said. "The staff was very eager to do something, and originally we thought we'd select titles that appealed to certain younger age groups." But, she said, interest in the Page23 list is not determined by age alone.

"We're now calling [Page23] a sensibility of books; it's kind of like Book Sense for hipsters -- people who break boundaries and want what's edgy [and] outside of the mainstream," she continued.

Dach attributes much of the success of the program to the unique design of the program's print materials, which evoke the feeling of having been captured with an old, handheld film camera, and to in-store displays. Because the program is "design driven," she explained, the bookstore has gradually decreased the amount of copy in its marketing materials. "Sales are astounding," she said, "as a result of the displays and the branding. There is a fascination with the lack of information presented."

Dach acknowledges that the target population enjoys the "un-marketing" of Page23 and the assumption that if one has to ask for an explanation -- "it's not really meant for you." The same promise of exclusivity that draws a certain crowd to a nightclub with no visible signage entices some customers to lists of books labeled only Page23. For those not in the know, Dach explained that Page23 takes its name from a Web meme game. "In a chain of e-mails, people were asked to open a book to Page23 and select a line," she said. "We liked the book reference, we liked the title and believe that in time the name will connect people with books of a certain sensibility."

Page23, which currently has a MySpace page, features quarterly lists of between 12 to 20 titles each. Dach said that books from independent publishers, such as Soft Skull Press, Melville House, and Fantagraphics, are frequently included, as well as books from major publishing houses. The titles are selected without any influence from publishers, she stressed, and most are in paper.

"Our staff looks for titles that people are talking about -- especially informally and in blogs," Dach said. Each quarter, the staff produces a multi-page booklet, shelf-talkers, fliers, and bookmarks. This spring, Changing Hands will expand the reach of Page23 by launching a website and offering the lists and materials to other independent bookstores for a nominal fee. A number of stores have already expressed interest.

Through Page23, Dach said, booksellers can identify unusual books -- fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and art -- that might fly below the radar of the mainstream reviewers and outlets. "We see ourselves as a mechanism to connect people with books that might otherwise go unnoticed." --Nomi Schwartz