Nichole Cousins of White Birch Books in North Conway, New Hampshire, is bringing shelf-talkers into the digital age. Cousins has helped establish #IndieYoureNext, a community on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook where booksellers can post short video reviews for books they love and tag others to do the same.
The initiative was spawned in 2018 by an ongoing conversation between Cousins and other booksellers that began at the American Booksellers Association’s Winter Institute and the New England Independent Booksellers Association’s (NEIBA) All About the Books education event on June 14 that focused on the importance of building a customer community online. Cousins’ idea was then bolstered by White Birch Books owner Laura Cummings, who posts Staff Pick Fridays videos to the store’s Facebook page.
“I have a fantastic boss,” said Cousins, who credits Cummings for granting her the opportunity to explore this new way of interacting with customers. “I will throw all kinds of ideas at her and she’ll just let me run with them and we’ll see what sticks.” Cousins has also worked with Beth Ineson, executive director of NEIBA, to encourage more independent bookstores in the region to participate.
Each post to #IndieYoureNext follows a similar layout: booksellers introduce themselves, give a brief synopsis of a book they love, and then tag another bookseller to post their own review. While there are no official guidelines for posting in the tag or choosing who to tag next, Cousins urges booksellers to tag the publisher, publicist, and any other representatives associated with the book being discussed.
“Another cool thing about the #IndieYoureNext videos,” said Cousins, “is that all of these smaller presses are getting picked.” These videos are a way for booksellers to provide publicity for lesser-known books, which helps get them into the hands of more customers and can even foster author engagement if they see the posts. Lorena Alvarez, author of Nightlights (Nobrow Press), thanked Print: A Bookstore bookseller Stephanie Heinz, after being tagged in her video.
“Different connections that people have made is how they choose who to tag,” said Cousins, adding that booksellers are welcome to tag whomever they’d like, both regionally and nationwide, as long as that person is a member of the bookselling community. “There’s really no rules to it.”
This new way of recommending books to customers is popular with the patrons of White Birch Books, said Cousins.
“Our customers here will watch the videos from other booksellers, and they appreciate that it’s a more personal way to sell a book than going online,” said Cousins. “Every bookseller has a different personality and a different way to sell things, so it’s fun to watch them.” Customers have even asked one bookseller, Nicole Brinkley, at Oblong Books & Music in Rhinebeck, New York, to make the video shelf-talkers a regular occurrence.
And, Cousins added, booksellers are just as eager as customers to watch the videos.
“We have Facebook up all day...just to see if anyone has done one,” she said. “The most fun part about it is pulling together the bookselling community. It’s obviously something we love to do. We’re not in this for the money. We do it because we’re passionate about reading.”
The video book reviews translate a bookseller’s passion and personality in a way that written shelf-talkers aren’t always able to. “I think there are some books that have been talked about that some people might not have done shelf-talkers for because you just can’t fit everything you’re feeling about a story on a little card,” said Cousins, referencing Brinkley’s video on First, We Make The Beast Beautiful (Dey Street Books) by Sarah Wilson, in which she shared her own personal experience and how it affected her appreciation of the book.
“There’s something very special and personal when you’re able to one-on-one handsell a book,” Cousins added. “I think that’s starting to come through on some of the videos.”