Wednesday, May 28, 2014

At The Strand with Brianne Sperber (CAS '11), Marketing Manager

Can you tell us about your job as Marketing Manager at the Strand Book Store? 

I began my career in publishing, first as a literary agent’s assistant at Curtis Brown, LTD. and then took a position at Simon & Schuster, as marketing coordinator in the Adult Trade Group. My role at Strand allows me to connect with readers and booksellers—the people I feel most alike. As Marketing Manager, I manage the store’s direct-to-consumer marketing, which includes weekly email updates and social media feeds, but I also field all press requests, including interviews, promote all of our events to bloggers and the press, and I am actively seeking new partnership opportunities. We have a strong partnership with Club Monaco and Strand has a pop-up shop in the Club Monaco on Fifth Avenue and 21st Street. I’m determined to find a partnership with an equally as recognizable and powerful brand. That all said—no two days are the same. Just recently, I arranged an interview Norwegian journalist who was writing a piece on America’s independent bookstore culture and a few days after that, I gave a tour to a group of 35 Japanese CEOs looking to learn more about American businesses. I never really know what’s going to land on my desk and the constant flux of projects keeps me engaged and excited to come to work every day.

You were active on the Program Board as a student at NYU. How did your experience being on PB prepare you for this position at the Strand? 

Program Board prepared me for real life in more ways than I ever imagined. I learned how to execute every detail of an event and oversee a group of 45+ students and greatly developed my communication skills. In many ways, a student upset about an event selling out is no different from a customer looking for a book. Knowing how to communicate effectively in all medias is something I can only thank Program Board for. Program Board exposed me to a wide range of events structures, and knowing about the range of entertainment possibilities helps me greatly here, as I can use my own experience to help our events team brainstorm new concepts. I learned how to be a manager from all those events in E&L Auditorium and there is not a day where I don’t say, “When I was at Program Board…”

Do you find that social media has been an effective way to market the Strand and its events to the public? 

Totally. Social media allows us to communicate in real time with our customers outside of the store. This winter, we launched a tote design contest and took submissions from all over. Our grand prize winner was a UK based designer and one of the runner-ups lives in Brooklyn. Social media enables a global conversation and helps us connect with our customers who don’t get to come in every day. Social Media can usually help us prepare better for an event, too. If it seems like a lot of people are discussing it on various platforms, we can usually assume we’ll see a spike in volume. If the conversation is quiet, we will just tweet at people (influencers like bloggers or people in a particular field) to push out the event. I definitely think it’s been an effective tool for getting news out about any of our initiatives. I am committed to making our customers feel as though they’re a part of our store and as a result, many of my social media initiatives are designed to invite responses from our followers. For National Poetry Month in April, we invited our followers to share photos of “Spine Poetry,” which are poems created by stacking books on top of each other and using the titles as the poem’s lines. We had a lot of great submissions and I took as much time as I could to respond to them. In May, we’re inviting people to take “shelfies,” which are photos of a personal bookshelf. We’re already getting great responses and it’s a lot of fun to see what our followers have on their bookshelves!

Are there any recent events that you were really excited about and want to share with our readers? 

When I was at NYU, Andrew W.K. emceed a show we hosted, one of the last shows we were able to do at Solar One, a park on the East River. I was so excited when he recently came to the Strand, speaking with Peter Crandall all about his album I GET WET. I never really listened to his music, but Andrew W.K. totally embodies everything I love about music. I was also overjoyed to be at the Strand when Ayelet Waldman was here. I was in the middle of her new novel, LOVE & TREASURE, and was eager to hear about her inspiration. Elissa Schappell, another favorite author of mine, introduced her. It was a total literary love fest—some of the most prominent contemporary authors were in the audience. Joyce Carol Oates, Michael Chabon (Ayelet’s husband), Zadie Smith, and Ben Marcus were in the audience. I bet there were more that I didn’t necessarily recognize as well. It was a total New York City-literati moment. Elissa said that coming to the Strand was like coming to Mecca for an author—and I totally felt that way too. (By the way, LOVE & TREASURE was fantastic and I encourage everyone to read it.)

For those who may be overwhelmed walking into the Strand, do you have a favorite section of the store and one you would recommend everyone visit? 

I am a big fiction reader so I spend a lot of time on our first floor, browsing the new arrivals tables to see what’s come in. That said, the Rare Book Room on our third floor is truly magnificent. It’s filled with some of the most beautiful books I’ve ever seen—gorgeous leather-bound collections and sets, first edition copies of modern classics, and some really rare editions, like a copy of James Joyces’ Ulysses that was illustrated by Matisse. I’ve heard customers refer to the room as “the secret room,” but it’s completely open to the public and accessible by the elevator. It does, however, close at 6:15 each day while the rest of the store remains open much later. No visit to the Strand is complete without a trip upstairs. It’s completely magical.

Are there any interesting facts about the history of the Strand that you learned while working there that most surprised you? 

I had no idea just how large the entire operation was! We have a warehouse off-site in Brooklyn and a staff of just about 200 people. Seeing the influx of books and the mass of customers each day, I can definitely see why. I also didn’t know that Strand got its start on Fourth Avenue, on what was then considered “Book Row,” and competed with about forty other bookstores. After losing the lease, store founder Ben Bass moved to Broadway. Of those forty some-odd bookstores, Strand is the only one still in business—and likely because the store moved to such a busy avenue. It’s still a fiercely independent family business and I think that in the age of superstores, that fact was surprising and encouraging to me.

The New York Times recently published an article about using books solely for decor. "The Strand now leads a fast-expanding marketplace of books sold by the yard, and orderable by color, subject or even spine size." Is it true that the Strand has a team of people who will help design a space using books? 

Yes, we do, and they are amazing! Our Books by the Foot and Personal Collections team can pretty much design a library for any home. They can select books to fit a particular size space—hence “by the foot”—and can create highly customized yet totally personal libraries for people. The team also runs our rental program, which furnishes film, television sets, and even retail stores. In a way, I’m glad to see people recognize books as works of art though I definitely hope they take the time to read at least a few of the books we select for them. 8. Is there a common feeling about eReaders amongst staff members at the Strand? Are you concerned about the future of physical books? I am definitely not concerned about the future of physical books. There are a number of statistics that show hardcover sales are growing and that eBook sales are finally leveling out. What we’re seeing now is a change in which eBooks people are reading, as readers and devices are changing much more rapidly than eBooks themselves. Based on the customer flow we have at the Strand, I know reading a physical book is still very important to people—and our customer base is very diverse. For many independent booksellers, they had to find a way either to work with or against eBooks. Our owner is staunchly anti-electronic and you’ll find that our prices not only compete with other physical book retailers—but with electronic retailers. We have an on-going promotion that spotlights the books we carry that are cheaper than the electronic editions and our book carts have thousands of books for $1 or less.

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