July 27, 2010

Aftermath of a marketing campaign: Indie champions of the Southwest


Perhaps the key component of our word of mouth marketing strategy for Every Man Dies Alone has been outreach to indie booksellers. It has always been our belief that it would take a network of smaller champions across the nation for this book to really sink in – to penetrate the literary marketplace as fully as possible and ultimately enter the canon. Thus, from the outset, publishers Dennis Johnson and Valerie Merians conducted a non-stop outreach to the people who’d always supported our not-so-obviously-commercial titles – the indies.

To charts the results of that effort, Melville House’s David Kinzer has been interviewing indie booksellers from across the country discussing what selling Every Man Dies Alone has been like for them, and what it represents about the brick and mortar bookselling scene today. (You can read the entire series here.) …

The shelf-talker for Every Man Dies Alone at Changing Hands Bookstore

The shelf-talker for Every Man Dies Alone at Changing Hands Bookstore

Changing Hands, a Tempe, Arizona-based bookstore whose motto is “Independent Books for Independent Minds,” has always been somewhat of a hang-out for rebels. According to co-owner Bob Sommer, he and his partners Tom Brodersen and Gayle Shanks began the store as a worker-owned cooperative and were “very idealistic and dedicated to building a community and being of service to it.” Thirty-six years later, the store is a community to itself, with 35 employees and over 1500 square feet store space, and enough selling power to even bring rock stars in for signings. (This past Saturday Pat Benatar stopped in.)

Of course, because the store is being featured in this series, it should be no surprise that Hans Fallada‘s Every Man Dies Alone has been a hit at Changing Hands. It was among the store’s top five new fiction paperback bestsellers this past spring, and was, notably, the only indie book on that list. It remains on display, months after release, with a shelf-talker written by Sommer himself. “There are plenty of readers who look for something of substance to go along with the escapist fiction by the pool,” he explains.

Changing Hands is no longer worker-owned (according to Sommer, it’s grown too large for that to be a feasible business plan), but it still manages to maintain its for-the-people integrity and scruffy ingenuity. Which may be why Every Man, the ultimate story of standing up to the man, has struck a chord with Sommer and worked so well at his store. In fact, Sommer likes it so much he has championed it beyond the boundaries of his store — the American Booksellers Association Summer 2010 Reading Group List included this moving encomium for Every Man, written by Sommer:

This is a tale written by a madman, about madmen and common folk in a time of terror, in a place of fear– and about those who resist their oppressors because in such situations someone must. Based on a true story, this bestseller from the ’40s has, to our good fortune, resurfaced to take its rightful place beside The Reader and All Quiet on the Western Front as yet another great anti-war novel by a brilliant German author.