If the internet has proven anything, it’s that if someone famous does something, normos (everyone who is non-famous) will also do it in a misjudged attempt to be famous. That, and the fact there’s no such thing as private messages. Both these lessons came to the fore last week in the aftermath of the London Book Fair, where the Bookseller Association announced the advent of the Books Are My Bag campaign (a high street campaign to make reading seem even cooler than it already is with branded merchandise), and Tom Tivnan from The Bookseller sent an incredibly acerbic email to a photographer that was subsequently forwarded to the inbox of pretty much everyone in the trade.
Books Are My Bag was the brain child of former Booksellers Association president Jane Streeter and Random House chair and chief executive Gail Rebuck in collaboration with M&C Saatchi, and is intended to ‘crystallize and strengthen the link between a passion for books and bookshops’ in a time when the high street is arguably struggling. Bookshops from all around the country will be asked to be involved, chains and independents alike, in a celebration of what they uniquely bring to the book buying experience.
The London Book Fair launch was met with praise from across the industry, with support from the Society of Authors and publishers alike. Visitors to LBF were asked to sign a wall telling people their favourite bookshop, and all authors attending were snapped with a picture of the main public-facing element of the campaign – a tote bag with the words ‘BOOKS ARE MY BAG’ printed on the side in orange.
It’s an interesting thing that the trade can rally behind a campaign that is so obviously intended to put the high street front and center in the consumer’s mind, and that it can gain so much support from people who would be hard pressed to be able to do the same promotion for any of the bookshops individually without it possibly affecting their relationships with other retailers. It highlights a divide in the sort of relationship various parts of the industry fosters with high street retailers versus their online counterparts. Though less aggressive than a price check app, this is arguably promoting one at the expense of the other.
The fact that there’s no response from Amazon to this sort of promotion, no calling of unfair advantage in working with authors, no complaining of publisher bias, shows how little their model is dependent on the success or failure of everyone else apparently working in the same industry. And really, more than declining physical sales, perhaps the high street should be worried about that.
The campaign will launch to consumers on September 14th. In the meantime, publishers and bookshops are being encouraged to get their pap on, snapping pictures of celebrities sporting the bag to be released to the public later in the year.
The email is really side note to the main event, though I bring it up because it’s a great example of both how small the industry is, and how much the internet can turn a potentially bad idea into a really good one. From it, Dan Franklin of Random House spawned #cockhats, the email went viral, and Tom Tivnan gained over 300 twitter followers in one day. Massive success. I wonder if we shouldn’t just turf any ideas for a formal PR campaign and go out big to the consumer with a ‘#cockhats of publishing’ campaign, releasing all our private emails and letting them decide who is the biggest jerkball in the industry.