Every now and then, I would sneak into the walk-in freezer and take my head off.
It was Free Cone Day, a Ben & Jerry’s institution. I worked at a Ben & Jerry’s in Charlotte just out of high school, and one year I was elected to play the cow. Cone Days were hot days, and I melted in that suit worse than a glob of Wavy Gravy on the sidewalk (that’s a caramel cashew brazil nut ice cream with a chocolate hazelnut fudge swirl with roasted almonds, which I didn’t have to look up!)
Free Cone Day is only surpassed by Free Comic Book Day, the best day of the year for us geeks (a notch above April 4th). You line up and fill a bag with free comics from Marvel, DC, Image, and so on. Reprints of first issues get you hooked on a series you missed. And previews get you anxious for what’s new and next.
The best thing about both of these days for the shops is that they clue shoppers into where they are located. It’s a reminder that the shops exist for some and that we all love ice cream and comics for others. For those new in town or those just coming of comic-and-ice-cream age, it stamps these locations into our spatial memories with an endorphine aftersplash.
Why don’t publishers and bookstores do the same?
Publishers already give away mountains of books. Amber and I were getting around ten hardbacks a week back when I was a book reviewer. At the bookstore in Boone, we drowned in free copies of books. And at BEA, publishers give away tens of thousands of books, and that number is set to rise as BEA becomes more commercial and more about the readers next year.
Why don’t we spread the love and expand this idea? Let’s get people into bookstores once a year to remind communities that they have a bookstore and that they are awesome. I’d love to see this be an American Booksellers Association program. I would be tempted to leave the mega chains out altogether and just do this with the independent stores. If your community doesn’t have an indie shop, then do it through the local libraries, which could use a reminder too.
Readers could show up for FBD and grab two or three books apiece. Here’s a chance to launch new names and new careers. A debut author would be extremely fortunate to be selected by their publisher for FBD. It might even be part of their contract negotiations. Local authors could be on-hand to sign copies of their books. Maybe you have a tent and tables outside where authors can set up—indie and traditionally published alike. For those not selected as part of the publisher FBD, they can still bring their own copies, hand them out, and meet readers. It’s what me and a dozen other indies did at BEA this year. I gave away copies of SAND at my own expense, and I was happy to.
FBD could be an annual orgy of reading and celebration of literature. Time that puppy near the start of summer. Comic book shop owners will tell you that it isn’t just about free comics; they sell a ton these days as well. Placing a second Christmas in June would be great for everyone’s bottom lines, including readers. FBD would be a great way for publishers to give back to bookstores and libraries. And the thought of families lined up, kids running around squealing, books for all ages, gives me goosebumps. I could handle that once a year.