IndieBound is a site run by the American Bookseller Association that has the laudable goal of promoting indie bookstores. The site, (in its current state) is moribund, and has been so for several years because the ABA has refused to address fundamental problems with the site. Upcoming changes to ABA leadership has spurred indie bookseller Paul Swydan to argue that the IndieBound site needs to change to better support authors.
He mostly misses the point, but he is not completely wrong, and I want to add my voice to the chorus calling for change.
Swydan thinks the site needs to launch a best-seller list:
As independent booksellers, we don’t have an independent platform that provides authors with this kind of public sales data.
We could, though. Our sales reports fuel the Indie Bestseller List. This data is waiting to be segmented, chopped up, and dropped onto IndieBound for all to see. Adding a section for ratings and reviews would make IndieBound more competitive with Amazon and Goodreads.
I have brought this up to the American Booksellers Association on two occasions. To date, it has not taken action on the idea—which, honestly, is understandable. Like most of us, the ABA is overwhelmed. In addition to its normal heavy workload, it’s trying to push ambitious projects—such as a health insurance plan for booksellers and a centralized billing system for all publishers, among other initiatives—across the finish line. This year is particularly challenging for the ABA: it’s simultaneously managing all of this work and navigating a leadership change, as the organization’s CEO and CFO get set to retire. But at some point, this will need to become a priority.
While that’s not a bad idea (and if indie bookstores are providing sales data to the ABA, it is actually doable) it’s still not the first thing that I would fix about IndieBound.
The very first thing that the ABA needs to do with IndieBound is change the site’s focus so that it serves indie booksellers, and not just ABA members.
As I have said twice in the past three years, Indiebound won’t help you find indie bookstores. It will only direct you to ABA members, a group that includes museum gift shops, college bookstores, airport bookstores, and online booksellers.
If I search for bookstores on IndieBound right now, it will tell me about the Hudson News stand at Reagan National Airport but it will not give me any info on the bookstores in the next town over. IndieBound will help me locate the headquarters for the agency that runs national parks around DC (that agency is an ABA member), but it won’t tell me the hours of the three nearest bookstores because they are not ABA members.
The reason that IndieBound gives so much bad info is that, in its current form, it is only designed to promote ABA members. It is not designed to promote indie bookstores. You cannot use the site, in its current form, to find bookstores. That is its entire raison d’etre, and it completely fails at that goal.
Until the ABA addresses this problem, nothing else will matter.
So long as IndieBund can’t be used to find indie bookstores, there is no reason to use the site, or recommend it to readers. Adding a best-seller list won’t matter a bit because authors still won’t send readers there, or even mention it.
Why would they when good and useful sources of info (such as Amazon) are close at hand?
P.S. Can you do the industry a favor and forward this post to the ABA?