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About the documentary
When a self-published author started visiting the most unique indie bookstores around the country, he intended to promote his novel on Amazon. But that didn't last long. He realized there was a priceless something the “everything store” couldn’t sell. On a new cross-country road trip, dozens of bookseller interviews reveal what that something is: the #1 reason we should all shop indie
When you rent the film, 100% of your money goes to the Book Industry Charitable Foundation. Click here to watch now.
Hi there. My name's Mason Engel, and I'm a writer and filmmaker from Columbus, Indiana. Here are some fun facts about me.
I love sci-fi, fantasy, and anything by Neil Gaiman
I'm a Hufflepuff (and slowly learning to accept that)
I went to Purdue but bleed Carolina blue
My self-published novel has been downloaded 30,000+ times
I was a math major (emphasis on "was")
I LOVE independent bookstores
That last bullet wasn't true until 2019. So let's start there, on my 50-day road trip to 50 indie bookstores around the country.
Documentary Trip #1 (2019)
In 2019 I took a road trip from Indiana to California and back, visiting 50 indie bookstores in 50 days to promote my self-published novel.
A lean operation
I saved money by staying with friends, camping out in Wal-Mart parking lots, and getting sponsorships for the books I gave away. For $5, supporters could sponsor the delivery of my self-published novel to the store of their choice.
The whole purpose of this 50-day trip was self-promotion. Only after getting back home did I realize how insensitive that was. I'd visited bookstore after bookstore, asking each one to promote a novel that was available only through their direct competitor: Amazon. And yet, all the booksellers I talked to were exceedingly kind. This, I decided, was an industry I wanted to learn more about. It was time for a second trip, but this one wouldn't be about me. It would be about the indies.
Documentary Trip #2 - 2020
In 2020 my cameraman, Brayden, and I interviewed 30+ booksellers around the East Coast. The result is a 25-minute documentary. Click here to watch the trailer.
Challenged by the pandemic
It was March of 2020, and we were all set to take the trip: me, two camera operators, and 30 days around the East Coast. Then came Covid. At first I thought it would be the death of the project. Then I realized that indie bookstores would need support now more than ever. So I found Brayden, my new camera guy--the other two ops had fallen through--and pared down the trip to 17 days. It was going to be a logistical nightmare, but we would make it happen.
The big question
I didn't have much of a plan when we first started the trip. I had the logistics taken care of--filming times, accommodations, etc.--but the narrative of the film wasn't yet clear to me. All I knew was that I wanted to answer one big question: Why should people shop at an indie bookstore?
I began investigating my big question with the in-store experience. The first five bookseller interviews gave a clear picture of the in-person value proposition: browsing, professional curation, human interaction ... the whole experience. But that made me wonder if everyone wanted that experience. What about our young folk, who seem more interested in posting dance videos on Tik Tok than talking to people in real life? That question prompted a new topic for my next set of bookseller interviews: children's programming, and why the physical locations of indies are more conducive to fostering a love of reading than the internet is. And so went my investigation, one set of interviews leading to new questions for the next set, constantly moving me closer to an answer to that big one: Why should people shop at an indie bookstore?
The big answer
There are plenty of reasons to shop indie. The in-store experience, book clubs, author events, community involvement, economic contribution--the list goes on. But in all my conversations with booksellers, there was a common thread that I found most powerful of all, the reason to shop indie that no one seems to talk about. I'm excited to share the big answer with you ... in the film :)