How an independent bookstore rocks my world

If you like to discover books by exploring your local bookstore, you are a dying breed. And apparently I am, too. A friend recently shared with me this article about how e-readers are contributing to the demise of local bookstores in Minneapolis, one of my favorite cities for independent bookstores. And The Huffington Post gloomily reported on significant bookstore closings of the past decade. Now I’m not going to launch into an anti-Amazon or anti-e-reader or anti-anything screed. But I am going to give you two reasons why my family and I will continue to patronize our local bookseller, Anderson’s Bookshop of Downers Grove, even though there are times when we can get a better deal on books (and browse larger inventory) elsewhere:

1. Anderson’s is a vibrant part of my community. Anderson’s is among the Downers Grove stores that lets kids paint its windows at Halloween, and in the heyday of the Harry Potter books, Anderson’s owned Downers Grove with its own celebrated book-release parties. It’s also a community center. For instance, it’s a place where I go to meet internationally known authors in person — flesh-and-blood meetings where you can really sit down and talk with writers about what they do and how they do it. And it’s a gathering place in more informal ways. Just a few days ago my family bumped into two good friends, and we caught up with each other while our children plowed through books at our feet. But Anderson’s does something else, too: its people get to know the community. To us, Anderson’s isn’t a faceless brand but warm people like Bridget, Carmel, Don, Griffith, Julia, Kathleen, the two Nancys, Norma, Patricia, and Ryan, who suggest new books for our family both in the store or if we see one of them while we’re running errands at Target. Or they compliment my wife when they hear about one of her short stories being published in a literary anthology. Sure, you can get book recommendations from Amazon, but you don’t have conversations with real people who understand you, talk with you, ask about your family, and offer a cup of hot chocolate on a cold winter day.

Author Sarah Mylnowski and friend at Anderson’s

2. Anderson’s isn’t just the store for me; it’s a home for my entire family. As my wife and I can attest, Anderson’s has become my daughter’s playground. There are places with bigger inventories of kids’ books. But Anderson’s is not a hardware store with inventory; the kids’ section is a comfortable little nook where my daughter has grown up — by playing with a Thomas the Tank Engine track that snakes its way through one corner of the store (when she was younger) and by diving through a pile of books provided by the staff, with no pressure to buy anything or leave at anytime. Some day after my daughter has moved on, my wife and I will remember Anderson’s as a place where we grew up together and discovered the world — all of us, sitting on the floor, getting to know different sides of our daughter through her books. I tell this story not just for sentimental reasons but commercial ones, as well. At a time when marketing experts preach the need to relate to “me” in a personal way, Anderson’s includes my extended me  — my family –and at all stages of our lives. We’re an interconnected team influencing each other’s purchases and providing more revenue to Anderson’s as well because Anderson’s makes all of us feel welcome.

Treasures await behind this storefront at 5112 Main Street, Downers Grove

“But wait a minute,” you might be saying. “There’s nothing special about Anderson’s. I know lots of bookstores like that.” Well, do you? Please speak up about them. Unless you patronize them and share your experiences with others, your favorite store might not be there next time you visit.

Meantime, learn more about Anderson’s on Facebook.

Getting a Life

The two people outside my family who read my blog regularly know that occasionally I find lessons for marketers from pop culture, especially music and books. I don’t read books or listen to music in order to become a better marketer; rather, the learnings just come to me from what I naturally read, watch, or hear.

Lately I’ve been plowing through the sprawling Keith Richards autobiography Life, which is a droll and sometimes surprising reflection on the journey of a confirmed rebel, libertine, and one of the greatest guitarists ever. Among the surprises: as a youth, Richards was fond of the Boy Scouts. He credits the Scouts for helping him learn how to organize a band (although he did get kicked out of the Boy Scouts eventually).

Along with the amusing anecdotes come moments of insight that inspire me. For instance, there’s this passage explaining how he became well known as something of a fashion icon in the late 1960s for his eclectic and unpredictable clothing style:

  • “Anita [Pallenberg — his one-time lover] had a huge influence on the style of the times. She could put anything together and look good. I was beginning to wear her clothes most of the time. I would wake up and put on what was lying around . . . Otherwise, it was plunder, loot that I wore — whatever was thrown at me onstage or what I picked up off stage and happened to fit. I would say to somebody, I like that shirt, and for some reason they felt obliged to give it to me. I used to dress myself by taking clothes off other people.”

I love that: a guy becomes a fashion icon by wearing whatever is lying around or whatever anyone gives him. So why do I care? Because I think you can become a better writer, creative thinker, and marketer if you adopt just a bit of Keith’s open-mindedness in the way you go about your job — not necessarily in the way you dress (unless your sartorial choice is a legitimate part of your job) but in how you formulate ideas.

Fashion icons

Here’s an exercise in taking suggestions and running with them, Keith Richards-style. Next time you’re stumped for a blog post idea or are trying to figure out a theme for a special event you might be planning, visit the largest news stand you can find, or if you don’t have access to one, go to a library. Then start walking up and down the aisle where the magazines are located and visit every type of magazine you can. Take care to find titles that you normally don’t read, especially anything outside your comfort zone. If you hate mechanical things, seek out Popular Mechanics. If you don’t have any children, find magazines for kids like Kiki or Muse. If you’re a guy, grab a copy of O. Thumb through them all. Don’t feel like you must read the articles very closely. Just get main themes.

Required reading for guys

Don’t worry about what may or may not be resonating with you, but if you are so inspired, jot down the name of an idea or a theme that sticks with you. Then clear your head, get back to your work assignment, and just let the ideas work through you. Run with the ideas that stick. (Later you can always vet them with someone else if you need to do so.)

Grown-ups should read this

Sometimes you’ll find this process of collecting ideas to be a waste of time. But there will also be times when you’ll be glad you did.

Even asleep he looks cool

What have you heard, read, or seen lately that surprised and inspired you? Do you find ideas lying around like Keith Richards finds his clothing? If not, what works for you? I would love to know.

Old bands, great brands shine in 2010

There seems to be no end to the merchandising of so-called legacy rock stars, and 2010 was no exception:

  • Elder rockers ranging from Robert Plant to Roger Waters made headlines with new music (in Plant’s case) and an updating of a rock classic via a stunning tour (Waters).

As I’ve blogged before, legacy rockers (sometimes from the grave) provide a relatively young art form (rock) the gift of perspective as they come to terms with their past and chart a course for the future. What did they say about themselves in 2010? Here’s my take:

  • “The king is dead. Long live the king.” God bless Robert Plant. After re-uniting with three quarters of Led Zeppelin to perform at London’s O2 arena in 2007, Plant endured tremendous pressure to tour again with his old band mates under the Led Zeppelin banner. But Plant would have none of that. Instead in 2008 he toured with Alison Krauss to promote their celebrated Raising Sand. In 2010, Plant continued to firmly keep Led Zeppelin in his rear-view mirror by releasing his latest solo album, Band of Joy (the name is a reference to one of his bands prior to Zeppelin). Anyone hoping for a Zeppelin reincarnation was disappointed. He chose a quirky mix of Americana covers spanning folk and rock (recorded with lesser known musicians) and embarked on a modest tour in places like the Robinson Center Music Hall in Little Rock, Arkansas. He was rewarded with some of the best reviews of his career.

  • “Remember us.” The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Elvis, and the Rolling Stones kept their names in the public eye without releasing any new music. Amid much hoopla, including a weeklong celebration on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, the Rolling Stones unveiled the remastered Exile on Main St. Months later, Keith Richards, surprising fans with a still-intact and lucid memory, published his 565-page autobiography, Life. In August, Elvis Presley’s entire catalog was released via a massive 30-CD box set retailing for more than $700 — and in an era in which CDs are supposed to be dead, the first-edition limited release sold out. In October, Sony released mono CD editions of Bob Dylan’s seminal recordings from the 1960s (the box set included a thoughtful essay by noted rock historian Greil Marcus). I think that Dylan, the Stones, and the caretakers of Elvis’s brand essentially were re-establishing their places in history for newer generations of rock critics (and it sounds like John Jurgensen at The Wall Street Journal wasn’t convinced). None of them technically released new material (the previously unreleased Exile tracks date back to the making of the original album). Instead, they continued to keep their past achievements relevant (even to the point of the Stones successfully licensing “Gimme Shelter” for use in a video game). I think it’s also significant that the Beatles finally made their music available digitally through iTunes. I don’t think the move was about generating sales (although sales did result) but rather passing the band’s legacy down to digital generations both today and tomorrow.

  • “I am an artist!” It’s no secret that Roger Waters and his ex-Pink Floyd band mates have fought bitterly over who is the rightful owner of the Pink Floyd legacy. In 2010, Waters made a statement in the best way possible: performing the 1979 Pink Floyd classic The Wall as a high-concept solo tour, replete with the construction of a giant wall in the elaborate stage act (as Pink Floyd with Waters did via a limited series of concerts decades ago). So how was The Wall tour different from the re-release of Exile on Main St.? Because Waters re-interpreted and updated the music he wrote in the 1970s as a modern-day statement against corporate greed and bellicose governments (the U.S. war in Iraq among the topics he explored with the modern-day performance of his songs). And having attended one of The Wall concerts, I think he suceeded.

In 2010, we also heard from many other legacy rockers, including Bruce Springsteen, Jimi Hendrix, and later, in the year, the king of pop, Michael Jackson. I expect 2011 to bring more of the same. And I have mixed feelings about what’s happening here. I think we should give the giants of rock history their due just as newer generations of readers should continue to buy books by Hemingway or pay admission to see the works of Picasso. But for every dollar we spend honoring the gods, rock fans need to be supporting new music financially. How many new and emerging artists have you supported lately by actually paying money to enjoy their music (whether recorded or in concert)?

I hope you’ll make a commitment in 2011 to both the old guard and the vanguard.