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E-book profits come home

Independent bookstore owners have had a rough time in recent years. They had to take it when huge corporate chains took over most of the bookselling business in the United States, putting a lot of “corner bookstores” out of business.

Then they watched helplessly as the “e-book” phenomenon undercut retail sales. But desperate times breed inventive solutions, and one Hillsboro bookstore is helping to lead a counter-revolution.

“Smaller bookstores are feeling the effects of statistics that clearly show e-book sales overtaking print book sales more every year,” said Tonya Macalino, vice president of the Northwest Independent Writers Association. “Indie bookstores have had no means to capitalize on this trend. As a book lover and literacy and arts advocate, I feel bookstores serve a critical role in our communities.”

Tina Jacobsen, owner of Jacobsen’s Books at 211 E. Main St. in downtown Hillsboro, has launched a project called “Load Local,” and she’s hoping it will start a trend.

Jacobsen has set up a display rack with books from about 25 authors from around the Hillsboro area, and previously — if a customer decided he or she would rather read the book on Kindle or Nook instead of holding the actual book — the bookstore was just out of luck.

No longer.

Under the Load Local initiative — which was officially launched May 4 — book lovers can purchase the desired e-book directly from Jacobsen’s.

“Customers can come in and look at the books in our store, and if they decide they want it on Kindle, they bring the book to the counter and we e-mail the file to the customer,” Jacobsen explained. “It’s more money for the local authors and more money for the local bookstore. And the money stays in the community instead of going to the big giant.”

Jacobsen said Macalino, who lives in Hillsboro, came up with the Load Local concept.

“The idea for switching bookstores from being e-book showrooms for Amazon to being showrooms for themselves has been playing around in the back of my mind for quite a while now,” said Macalino. “Between NIWA and Jacobsen’s Books, we had a huge network of local authors to pull from and people were really enthusiastic about the idea. We were able to put together a solid foundation catalog for the launch with a queue of books.”

Macalino said her motivation was a simple one.

“Load Local offers indie bookstores a real ‘in’ on this revenue stream,” said Macalino. “Unlike affiliate e-book sales, which offer a smattering of change per sale to bookstores, Load Local offers a direct split on profits between the bookstore and the author with no third party involvement.”

Jacobsen said she splits the proceeds with the authors 50-50 and pays them quarterly.

The new approach represents a change for consumers, however.

“The authors, for the most part, have been very enthusiastic about the program, but the biggest challenge will be educating readers,” Macalino said. “It’s a huge change in the book-buying habit for them. It’s sort of a hybridization of the online and in-store shopping experiences. They can pick the book up, flip through it, and then if they fall in love, they can take it to the checkout and Jacobsen’s will e-mail the file off to them.

“No more trying to remember the title once you are back home or taking surreptitious cover shots with your cell phone.”

Jacobsen, who just last week celebrated the third anniversary of the opening of her store, said the display of local books will continue to change and grow.

“The display will be up all the time, and we’ll keep it fresh so people who have already bought books can come back and find more books of interest,” Jacobsen explained. “Our goal is to be where people come when they want a local author’s book. We want to build a sense of community with e-books, so people who want to support local authors or our bookstore can do that with e-books.”

Jacobsen pointed out that to qualify for the Load Local program, an author has to have the rights to their work.

“With big publishing houses, you generally don’t have the rights, so this is primarily for those who are self-published,” she said. “I hope it’ll be successful and other bookstores will come in. It’s nice to start in one bookstore and work out the kinks.”

Jacobsen’s has been an innovator in another venue as well. Her bookstore has partnered with a wine bar across the street, Primrose & Tumbleweeds, for a series of readings from local authors. The readings, which began in January, are billed as “Bards & Brews,” as people come in to eat and drink while listening to authors on the final Friday of every month.

“The readings have been fantastic,” said Dawn Sellers, owner of Primrose & Tumbleweeds. “They have been building and building, and it has been much bigger than we anticipated. Bards is bringing a whole new element to the downtown. It’s helping to create evening traffic. That’s our goal, to become an 18-hour business district, not a place where the sidewalks are rolled up at 9 p.m.”

Macalino, who has penned two novels of her own, said bringing new energy to the downtown business district was all part of her vision when she helped launch Bards & Brews and then Load Local.

“In my heart of hearts, I’m a community builder,” Macalino explained. “I envisioned Bards & Brews as a way to bring more people into downtown Hillsboro — I envisioned it as a way to build up a circle of book lovers, to create a bond in the neighborhood and make it that much richer.”




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