Book Store Battles Giants with Charity

Dec 30, 2009

By Tom Ryan

Main Street
Books in Orleans, Mass. offers a 10 percent discount on any purchase made
from its website. The twist is that the 10 percent discount is then donated
a charity.

“Our independent
bookstore offers socially aware Internet shopping and a good deal for you!” reads
the website, which just launched in late November.

The owners,
Don Krohn and Janis Brennan, came up with the marketing ploy after recognizing
that avid readers tend to be more socially aware. The hope is that the
charitable option provides another reason to shop the store when “a lot
of people are torn between shopping locally and saving money,” Mr. Krohn
said to The Cape Cod Times.

The site also
lists a number of charities it makes donations to. These include Natural
Resources Defense Council, The Conservation Fund, International Rescue
Committee, Doctors Without Borders, Oxfam America, and the Dana-Farber
Cancer Institute. It also lists two local charities: The Association to
Preserve Cape Cod and AIDS Support Group of Cape Cod.

Even with the
discount, prices at Main Street Books are much higher than its bigger competition.
The article noted that the best-seller “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” by
Stieg Larsson, was available in paperback from for $9.99 with
shipping due to a 60 percent discount versus $15.95 with shipping from
Main Street Books. The price differential was closer on older books. Geraldine
Brooks’ 2007 “People of the Book” was $11 through an Amazon-linked reseller;
$18.97 from Borders; and $16 from Main Street Books.

Ms. Brennan
hopes the online discounts enable the store to reach shoppers who want
to support good causes and small, independent bookstores, or to connect
to Cape Cod.

“It does sound
contradictory,” Mr. Krohn said. “Shop locally and shop online.”

On Tuesday,
Canada’s independent bookseller McNally Robinson announced it would file
for bankruptcy protection and close half of its retail outlets. The book
seller blamed the “recession, stagnant book prices, steep discounting,
and increasing competition from internet sales and electronic text formats.”

Questions: What do you think of Main Street Books’ online marketing push
touting charitable discounts? Are smaller stores able to tap the charitable
connection better than larger stores? What other innovative ways can
local book stores differentiate themselves from Amazon and larger book

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

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9 Comments on "Book Store Battles Giants with Charity"

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David Biernbaum
12 years 4 months ago

I do a lot of business development for consumer goods that have connections with charities including Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation and several others. Through the years I have learned that different charities have different levels of charisma with consumers that directly impact price points and how much the consumer is willing to pay “extra” for the “feel good” benefit.

Consumers are fairly cynical though about most charity offerings and so the explanations and language on the consumer product or even online needs to be spelled out clearly in terms of how the money gets to the charity. Otherwise, the charity event will actually produce erroneous results.

Warren Thayer
12 years 4 months ago

Great idea for this independent bookstore; they understand their customers well. Having said that, it’s going to be very rough for independents to last against the big chains and Amazon unless they find good differentiation. This can be done online, via niche specialization, as a very important adjunct.

As for in-store, offering Wi-Fi and coffee is becoming common, so you’re almost at a disadvantage if you don’t offer it. The New Yorker recently had a cartoon where a couple is driving down a highway and the wife says to the husband, “I need a bathroom and a cup of coffee. If you see a bookstore, please stop.” My local independent bookstores all offer frequent shopper programs. One has evening readings by local authors, which packs the place so much you have to make a reservation a week in advance to get in.

Doron Levy
Doron Levy
12 years 4 months ago

This is ‘merchant mentality’ at its finest! Retailers underestimate the power of local store marketing. Want to see your word-of-mouth marketing explode like napalm? Develop community inroads like this bookstore did.

Ryan Mathews
12 years 4 months ago

I’m sure it works well for them and I’m equally sure it would be a disaster as a mass market technique. Yes, if you have a socially conscious customer base it makes sense to use cause marketing. If you don’t, folks will find there way to the discounts they get to keep.

Mel Kleiman
12 years 4 months ago

Most independent book sellers, like most other small businesses that deal with highly competitive products are not going to make it because even though they will hear about great ideas like this one, they will not adapt them or come up with something similar.

As my mother used to say, “The recipe is not the meal. Someone needs to do the cooking.”

On a separate note, the entire book market has a bigger problem. That of electronic books. The core buyer of the books is moving away from buying hard copy and is buying downloads.

The person who buys just one or two books a year is not going to be able to support the present distribution system.

Mark Johnson
Mark Johnson
12 years 4 months ago

Please reference Blockbuster, Movie Gallery and Hollywood video.

Eliott Olson
Eliott Olson
12 years 4 months ago

Mark Johnson has it right: the bookstore is toast.

My wife needed a book ASAP two weeks ago. She ordered it through Barnes & Noble and was told it would be there in two days. Yesterday she was told that it was still not in but that it should be there shortly. I ordered it from Amazon yesterday afternoon and it arrived today. That was a first time use.

My wife also bought a Kindle for me at Christmas. My Barnes & Noble frequent shopper card will be getting less use in 2010.

Technology is bypassing the bookstore.

Tim Henderson
Tim Henderson
12 years 4 months ago

Main Street Books gets props for creative marketing. It’s a solution that will most certainly resonate with conscious consumers who want their shopping dollars to pull double duty so they can shop while helping make the world a better place.

That said, it’s no secret that indie booksellers have struggled mightily over the years. While I’m hopeful for these type of innovative marketing solutions, I also doubt their long-term viability. Outside the dedicated buy-local contingent, most shoppers learned long ago that the books, CDs and DVDs they want can be had for cheap at brands like, and the selection is much broader. Overall, I’m skeptical that the dedicated buy-local demo is enough to keep the indie bookseller afloat.

Don Krohn
Don Krohn
12 years 4 months ago

Thanks for the interesting comments on our venture, Part of our mission, in addition to encouraging philanthropic e-commerce, is to alert people to the implications of the rapidly dwindling number of independent bookstores. These often quirky shops are key to a healthy democracy and a literate society.

The giant online sites and the big chains and box stores will inevitably favor the typical names in publishing and the most mainstream ideas, while their deflationary effects hurt the publishing and bookselling industry, as in the recent price wars in which books have been selling far below cost. And Kindles certainly don’t help us, obviously.

Perhaps Amazon should exit the bookselling business, since it’s really not their core focus any longer, and they’re certainly losing money on many of the biggest titles they sell. A radical suggestion, perhaps, but it would do everyone a huge favor after all the damage done to independents over the years. In any case, don’t write off us and the rest of our ilk just yet!


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