Friday, July 31, 2009

Compete by Not Competing

Don't be afraid of the big boys.

Instead, focus on what you can do that they can't. From

Book Soup for the Soul

At Book Soup on West Hollywood's Sunset Strip, you'll pay full retail for the latest bestseller, and you won't find an exhaustive midlist inventory. But the small, independent bookseller competes with heavyweights like and Barnes & Noble by providing its loyal customers an experience they're unlikely to find elsewhere.

It centers on a regular schedule of well-attended readings given by authors, followed by signings. Customers who know they'll miss the event can preorder a signed copy online. The shop also secures a stack of signed copies for later purchase, either in-store and online: these always sport a familiar "Signed at Book Soup" sticker on the cover. Just recently, for example, the Book Soup website was offering signed copies of books such as Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers, Augusten Burroughs' A Wolf at the Table and Ralph Nader's The Seventeen Traditions.

And then there's the small restroom, where nine or ten nails support stacks of one-page book excerpts arranged in an artful array around the toilet. The diverse selection, printed on heavy off-white paper, recently included the poem "Afroditi of the Flowers at Knossos" by Sappho, and text from Joan Didion's essay collection Slouching Towards Bethlehem. They serve the practical purpose of giving visitors something to read, but they also warm a booklover's heart and probably spur sales.

Bookshelves, meanwhile, feature interesting staff recommendations, and often highlight books that might be overlooked. One recommendation, written about Jonathan Goldstein's Lenny Bruce is Dead notes, "Because you're neurotic and delusional, but at least you're not alone. Random, but a satisfying read." The praise worked well on the store's Hollywood clientele: The book sold out.

Book Soup can't compete with discount retailers, but it provides Marketing Inspiration by giving its customers something the big guys can't—a unique shopping experience and signed first editions.

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