How can a small bookstore survive under the pressure of online retailers? Owners must develop strategies to slip from the grip of online retailers, offering that which cannot be bought online
The year 2020 was a ride for bookshops. While Amazon’s pockets are deep, bookstores have struggled to keep up with the shifts that gave rise to precariousness as a life paradigm. Chiara Capodici’s Leporello is developing strategies to survive Covid-19 and stay in touch with their audience. This challenge has not taken Chiara by surprise, as she comes from a history in the trenches of the intellectual precariat.
«Garnering a degree in Beni Culturali (Cultural property) I considered joining the Accademia delle Belle Arti. In my time spent at the internship for a festival of photography organized by Marco Delogu. I discovered areas of work that I had ignored before. Working as an art director assistant, I plunged into the commercial and creative aspect of the job, understanding how to entwine the artist’s expression to create a path that appealed to the public».
A new creative space for design disciplines
Chiara found herself in a creative space «In 2009, I opened what I define as a ‘photographic design studio’ in order to emphasize the value we attribute to planning. I curated photography exhibitions and photo books, balancing creativity and communication. We were part of a wave of interest centered around photo books, started by the volumes of ‘The Photobook: A History by Martin Parr and Gerry Badger’. We continued organizing exhibitions, from Europe to the United States.
Over time the ‘photographic design studio’ evolved into a traveling bookstore curated, valuing assonance over systematic planning. In 2016, I felt the need to apply the knowledge. I had acquired to establish a space to maintain books on photography. I noticed that in Italy such a space existed in Milan and I decided to open one in Rome, my hometown. Since 2017, Leporello has been based in Pigneto, a neighborhood near the city’s center».
Rearranging her worldview, «I considered Leporello a chance to get in touch with disciplines such as design and typography, and to establish collaborations. I consider book selling itself an art that I am in the process of perfecting. The bookstore has a horizontal structure. i incorporating stands with wheels that can be moved at whim created with the contributions of Orizzontale studio».
Collectiveness as the key of creativity of a retail space
The shop is Chiara’s creation, but cannot survive in a vacuum. «I receive support from friends and collaborators, but I am the person in charge of the curation of the books. I highlight the work of my bookshop assistant, now the bookshop manager. We collaborated with a series of interns, who have come and gone and others who became collaborators. Leporello is a web of connections that stretches from the corners of art».
Retailers are part of the ecosystem, bringing their contribution in serving the public’s needs. «Bookshops, compared to mine, host a target of clients that do not correspond to the material we house. I do not find competition in them.
In Pigneto we have bookstores devoted to topics that are streamlined: an antiquity bookstore, that sells books for collectors; one on women literature, from essays on feminism to feminist fiction; and one focused on comics and illustrations. Among these runs a collaboration that leads to sharing clients». This discourse cannot be applied to online retailers, «Amazon is the villain. We cannot discuss competition in this space. From the prices to shipping, there is no scope for collaboration as they monopolize the client».
Experiences offered by Leporello
Bookshop owners must develop strategies to slip from their grip, offering that which cannot be bought online. Leporello hosts events, but the ongoing pandemic forced Chiara to change plans. «We had one book presentation a week but that changed. The store closed in March due to the lockdown and I had to generate a way to breathe life in the relationship between Leporello’s supporters and the authors. One of these is ‘Wednesday takeover’, where we entrust our Instagram page to an author for the day. With partial openings in regulations, our capacity is limited.
We decided to host authors and publishers at Leporello on Saturday afternoons, who would respond to doubts and queries. This creates a dialogue between the subjects involved, eliminating the verticality that looms on presentations to exhibit the speaker on a pedestal. We are bringing people into the streets and acknowledging spaces in public linking them to the store. With the lockdown in mind, we approach the internet taking into account it’s indispensability to practice the osmosis between outside and inside».
Online customer journey in collaboration with Jackrabbits
Where e-commerce mimics each other, reproposing the architecture aimed to create a semi-passive buyer experience, Leporello’s website encourages the user to stray from this path, «the site is a collaboration with two friends, born from a relationship of delegation in creativity, giving their view on Leporello. There are people that do not comprehend the site’s architecture and people who are passionate about it. In addition, the presence of jackrabbits that appear when the user is not in motion on the site, is an inside joke between me and the designers. They shaped this feature based on my habit of jolting someone that emotes passive behavior, to claim attention».
Chiara points out the contribution of life’s choices. «I minimize the use of plastic and utilize bubble wrap on a cyclical basis. This problem escalates if we consider distribution on a scale: since we cannot change it, we take advantage of it by minimizing its damage. Parcellating the movement of goods encouraged by storage centers. We serve wine in paper glasses and fixed the shop’s floor with a water-based glue, reducing the impact that can come from a substitution».
Online strategy for creatives target market
In the fight for survival against online distribution the state is no ally, turning its gaze. «I would like to have recognition from the state. Seeing what countries do and imitating it. The obstacle we have to fight is bureaucracy, filling out modules that consume an amount of time for results that do not suffice. Compared to France and Germany, there is no consideration of culture that seeks economic autonomy.
We lack legal definitions that states use: in Italy the definition for an activity are commercial enterprise or cultural association, which is a cover for a series of subterfuges». The environment is hostile, but resignation is not the answer «working in this sector dictates facing obstacles with determination. I tell myself, had I been born a hundred years ago in Japan I would have ended up a kamikaze».
Via del Pigneto, 162 / e