A Visit from the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance

As an independent business, Midtown Reader is always looking for ways to improve for the sake of our supportive local community, the independent bookselling community as a whole, and ourselves. Because we know that teamwork and collaboration are vital in the growth of our store, we were thrilled to take part in an independent bookstore peer review program offered by our friends at the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance SIBA. On February 12th, we welcomed fellow booksellers and SIBA representatives Linda-Marie Barrett and Jill Hendrix to our store, who offered guidance and education in helping us reach our full potential as your neighborhood bookstore. They were kind enough to set aside a few minutes to answer some of our questions about their organization and the work they do, so we could share this experience with you!

SIBA is a trade association dedicated to helping independent booksellers, authors, and publishers in the southern region of the U.S. Spanning a total of eleven states (and even the U.S. Virgin Islands), SIBA aims to assist its associates in parts of the country where major book publishing may not be as prolific as it is in the booming metropolises like New York. While they offer a multitude of services to publishers and authors, a majority of their work is done with core members of the organization: the booksellers.

Linda-Marie explained, “The core members are independent bookstores that have brick & mortar presence. But we also have members who are publishers and authors. We reach out to all areas of the industry. But our main service is to the core member bookstores. We provide educational programming, we work on the publisher-bookstore relationship, and our mission is to help bookstores be more successful financially. We help all areas of their businesses and serve as advocates for them in the industry.”

“And from a bookstore perspective,” added Jill, “there are things that you don’t have the budget for, the man power for as an individual store. But when we all band together, we can accomplish things through SIBA that are greater than what any one individual bookstore could accomplish.”

As part of SIBA’s Peer Review program, indie booksellers can apply to be peer-reviewed as well as becoming peer reviewers themselves. Rather than viewing it as a teaching exercise, SIBA offers its peer review as “a mutual exchange” where booksellers can learn from one another and understand how other independent bookstores are successful in different areas of their business. By taking the peer-to-peer approach, SIBA assists indie booksellers in their efforts to grow and expand with the help of others who have the same goal. Jill even noted, “we get a lot of comments from other industries who come in as presenters about how forthcoming and open booksellers are with each other that they find striking that isn’t present in other industries.”

During the peer review process, visiting reviewers focus on a variety of the host store’s characteristics. While there is a list of general points of review (including things like ambiance, and visual aspects such as signage and merchandising), SIBA will also assist with reviewing and assisting with any specific aspects at a store owner’s request. This way, reviewers can cover everything from general first impressions to more targeted areas for an in-depth look.

Linda-Marie and Jill also shared insight on the development of social media review for independent bookstores, as online presence for businesses becomes an ever-growing importance. “I think social media, beyond peer review, is something that our trade organization is looking at and booksellers are looking to improve, so we’re adding in educational programming beyond the peer review,” said Linda-Marie. Conferences like EUREKAsiba that are offered as educational programs for independent booksellers will begin incorporating social media presentations from experts that are specifically designed to cater to the social media needs of independent booksellers in hopes of helping SIBA as a whole become more well-versed in the online realms of promoting independent bookstores.

With help from organizations like SIBA and their peer review program, independent bookstores are becoming more and more of a beloved cultural epicenter for local communities across the country. And with help from loyal customers and community members, independent bookselling can enrich local living. Linda-Marie and Jill both expressed their feelings on the importance of supporting local businesses like bookstores, and compared independent bookstores to keystone species in nature, like the gray wolves of Yellowstone that were reintroduced to the ecosystem and eventually changed the courses of the rivers that flow through the area. The introduction of independent bookstores to areas that might be considered “cultural deserts” can have disproportionate effects on the surrounding communities, helping with “discoverability, especially with debut authors, and diversity.”

Thanks to Linda-Marie Barrett, Jill Hendrix, and all of SIBA, Midtown Reader had an educational and enriching few days of learning more about our store and the community of independent booksellers that make our business possible! We were thrilled to have them last week and look forward to working with them again in the future. Learn more about SIBA’s work with booksellers, publishers, and authors, and visit Jill’s store Fiction Addiction if you ever visit Greenville, SC.

Don’t forget to check out our upcoming events, and as always, thank you for continuing to read, think, and share with us!