Circle of Sites, the innovative program from the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance (SIBA) that allows publishers to promote their books simultaneously on seventy-five indie bookstore websites across the south, has been upgraded to promote book sales that directly benefit participating stores. Beginning August 18, the banners will be programmed to link directly to the hosting store's own shopping cart, or to a specific product page on the store's website.
"We think this is an original approach to online marketing," said SIBA Executive Director Wanda Jewell. Up until now SIBA's Circle of Sites program, which sells ad space to publishers on its member bookstore websites, did not allow posted banners to be hyperlinked at all--citing the need to keep their member stores' customers on the stores' own websites. "We are trying to drive traffic to our stores, not drive it away," said Jewell.
Despite the restrictions, the program has proved popular with both publishers, who like that it reaches a direct consumer market and bookstores, who like that their membership dues are waived if they host the banner. Ad space is sold by the week, and so far every week of 2011 to date has been reserved. Now that banners will automatically be linked to store shopping carts and product pages, Jewell thinks the program's popularity will increase, encouraging website traffic and sales for participating stores.
"It is an unusual approach to banner ad marketing," said Nicki Leone, who acts as SIBA's website administrator. "It's one thing to have the same banner appear on many different websites. But it's quite another to fix it so that where you go when you click on it depends on where you are when you started. I don't know if anyone has ever even tried it before." SIBA solved the problem by creating a system that analyzes a store's website and ecommerce organization, and creates a custom link to a store's shopping cart (or other page) on the fly depending on the information it finds. "So far we think we have been able to account for all the most popular ecommerce systems used by SIBA stores," Leone said.
There are currently seventy-five stores participating in the Circle of Sites program, representing each of the eleven southern states in SIBA territory. "These stores are the literary hubs of their communities," said Jewell. "Marketing on their websites is like putting a sign on the front window--you are reaching directly into a community of southern readers.
SIBA is currently taking reservations for Circle of Sites spots for 2012. Publishers who make their reservations now will be able to lock in 2011 prices.