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Indie bookstores using tech to compete, recruit new customers

Independent bookstores in Mississippi are using technology to compete with online and larger retail competition. While embracing new technology, independents are managing to maintain the qualities that make them special.

Turnrow Book Company owner Jamie Kornegay looks at it as filling in the gaps for a unique product. His Greenwood bookstore sends out e-mails, has a website with online ordering and posts Rhythm & Books Blogs to stay in touch with readers. The blog is kept fresh with new postings several times a week to recap events at the store, photos and recommended books.

Historic building, high technology

“We get a good response from all of it,” he said. “We don’t have a cookie cutter approach. That’s what independent bookstores have going for them. People feel connected. We’re seeing an increase in traffic on our website.”

The store opened in 2006 and business is growing — something that Kornegay feels especially good about in these uncertain economic times. The downtown location is becoming a social setting for the town and now has eight employees, two of whom are there at all times. Part of that success is blending the aesthetic of a store in a historic building with technology, enabling these booksellers to appeal to a wide range of customers.

“There’s so much out there on the Internet and people rely on it,” Kornegay said. “Those who know what they’re doing use it avidly.”

Taking ‘atmosphere’ online?

Joe Hickman, manager of Lemuria in Jackson, says the independent bookstore has to use technology to compete with giant bookstores in town. “We’ve got to accept it and move on,” he said. “People are in front of computers all day.”

Lemuria began a website in the late 1990s and a few years later added a shopping cart for online book buying. It is reaching people all over the country. On the morning he spoke with the Mississippi Business Journal, Hickman had processed an order from a customer in Alaska.

“People everywhere like independent bookstores, the atmosphere, and we’re trying to replicate that experience on the Internet,” he said. “It helps us reach more people. They learn about us on the Internet and want to visit.”

In an effort to reach more young readers, Lemuria also has a blog and sends out a newsletter by e-mail.

Valuable tool

In Oxford, Square Books manager Lyn Roberts uses technology to communicate with customers and as a tool behind the scenes. “Anything that can help us do our jobs better, we do it,” she said. “We probably use it more than is apparent to visitors to the store.”

An employee there since 1988, she remembers when sales were rung up on an “ole timey” cash register and each title was written down on a legal pad beside it.

“Then we went to computer controlled inventory, which makes it easy to keep up with what’s sold and with orders,” she says. “We can get an order overnight and get it to a customer quicker than online ordering.”

The store has had a website for a number of years and has an e-mail newsletter. The site is being re-designed to add a blog that will keep the public informed of what’s new and what’s going on at this icon bookstore that always has a lot of authors coming in for signings.

“We sell books online and sell collectibles through other sites, but people like to look at books and hold them,” said Roberts who believes buying books in person will continue to thrive. “Technology is wonderful. We have some really smart young people working here, and they keep us up to date with it.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

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