The Death of the Forum?
by Craig Stark
1 December 2018
I can't begin to count the number of booksellers who have lamented the death (or decline) of online forums. Sure, there are other ways to connect with our fellow booksellers - book fairs,
Facebook, etc. - but you and I know it's just not the same. Perhaps this trend is no more apparent than on the eBay bookseller's forum, or board, more commonly known as the BSB. In its
heyday you could almost read new posts moment by moment simply by refreshing your screen. Go there today, and sometimes days go by without a single post. Sure, there was a valiant effort
by one of its members to resurrect it on an alternative site. Suffice it to say that it died an early death. Also, there's a Facebook group, BSBoardies, for refugees; however, activity
there is pretty minimal and often off topic, as you would suspect. Much of the blame for the BSB's decline was heaped on eBay. I won't go there today. It's a long story. In any case,
there's more to it than that. Social media, for one thing. Maybe a big thing. But let me ask you something: Would you call Facebook a magnificent resource for bookselling how-to? YouTube?
To be fair, YouTube does house some pretty darn good tutorials on bookmaking, book repair and so on, but bookselling? I haven't seen anything worth bothering with. There are lots "lite"
bookselling tutorials, many of which are little more than promos for self-published books or get-rich-quick courses. The public nature of YouTube seems to militate against offering anything
of significant value (without charging for it), and any sense of community is remote at best. On the other hand, the BSB was a magnificent resource, so much so that booksellers would often
fall over each other answering questions. Some would write detailed, pages-long tutorials. Tips on what to look in the field were often offered gratis.
Not to get too McCluan-esque (The Medium Is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects) but there's much to be pondered in the phrase he coined: "The medium is the message." There are inevitably
things that are lost when the medium is changed.
Specifically, when forums die and morph into some other format, what has been lost?
First and foremost, in my opinion, forums invite deeper, at times longer discussions - a considerable plus for booksellers, who are often much in need of pointed detail. Bookselling is
cerebral; forums are cerebral. Virtually anybody who has experienced Facebook or other social media becomes immediately aware that much of its interaction, even in many groups, is limited
to tossed-off comments, "likes" and other goofiness. On BookThink distractions are minimal.
The focus is inevitably much more serious and tighter on forums, especially when integrated into a site with the same focus. Facebook, to use one example, is a vertical experience. (Compare
the experience of reading a newspaper to reading a book.) Posts quickly scroll out of sight. They can be searched, of course, but the horizontal experience of a forum, where forum categories
and sub-categories organize posts that are both archived and quickly accessible, guarantees that nothing is ever lost or far from being found, including those valuable "evergreen" posts, which
are commonly pinned to the top. It also allows for much longer posts to be viewed at once. Longer Facebook posts are often truncated (cf, articles in a newspaper), and a second click is required
to view what's remaining. Speaking of things vertical, studies have shown that Facebook posts of 40 to 80 characters are far more likely to attract engagement than longer posts. Not so much
different than Twitter. The estimates are considerably different for forums. On BookThink you're able to publish anything, even an entire catalog, though it may be more efficient to simply
link to it.
The feel of a forum is different. It's more like a quiet room in a library where thoughtful posts can be crafted instead of tossed onto a gymnasium floor, where one is more likely to be concerned
with attracting attention.
BookThink hosts a closed forum. It's inaccessible to non-members. New registrants must be approved to be activated and thus you're ensured of a safe place to post even sensitive information that
you wouldn't otherwise want publicly viewable. Also, whatever you post is yours. The copyright is yours, and BookThink will never sell or share any forum content to anybody. And you are free to
promote your business in your signature.
BookThink's forum is moderated. Topics are kept on topic, and any unpleasantness that might arise is addressed promptly. (BTW, BookThink also provides an off-topic forum.) We are honored to have
a moderator - Gen Kazdin -who once headed a forum with over 60,000 participants. She knows her stuff cold.
Build It and They Will Come
A forum of some sort has been in place at BookThink for many years - namely, 15 years and counting. Traffic has varied considerably, and in recent years, due to some interruptive (and unfortunate)
events, it has grown quiet. But I'm far from convinced that the kind of forum that's here wouldn't be of value to many booksellers in particular. On the contrary, the environment seems peculiarly
suited to bookselling.
Do I want more booksellers to register and participate? Yes. Am I aware that there is some inertia to overcome for this to happen? Yes. I'm not certain what needs to be done to overcome it at the
outset, but I have several ideas that I'm going to throw against the wall.
Starting immediately, new forum registrants will receive, upon registration, a 25% discount on any BookThink product - and yes, this includes the all-encompassing Kitchen Sink package.
Also, a new forum feature will begin on Monday, December 3rd - a bookselling question of the week. This question will not be too easy nor too difficult to answer, but if you are the first member
to contact the forum moderator with a correct answer, you will receive a 50% discount on any BookThink product.
Bookselling Tip of the Week. Yours truly will begin this feature in a sub-forum devoted to it, but any tip that we receive from members will be evaluated for publication in the forum. If published,
you will also receive a 50% discount on any BookThink product.
If none of these initiatives move the needle much, we'll try something else, and I'm always open to suggestions.
Finally, here's how to register. Go here.
Please note that guest access has been disabled - that is, non-registered users are not able to read posts or reply to them. You must be registered and logged in. Also, registration is a two-step
process that requires approval on this end before you can log in. In most cases this will happen quickly; if not, please follow up with an email to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm usually loath
to make anybody jump through hoops to do anything associated with BookThink, but what this does is effectively shut down the dozens of bogus bot registrations and subsequent spamming we would
otherwise get daily.