Despite contending with natural disasters, such as the wildfires that raged throughout the region this summer, Mountains & Plains Independent Booksellers Association members have managed to stay focused on what really matters to them: books. Approximately 400 booksellers, many from Colo., with sizeable contingents from both Texas and Utah, descended upon the Renaissance Hotel in northeast Denver Sept. 20-22 for the annual trade show. It was three days of swapping war stories, talking shop with the publishers’ reps who came from as far away as Los Angeles and Michigan, learning more about selling digital devices and content from the American Booksellers Association CEO Oren Teicher and Kobo v-p of sales Mark Williams, and meeting a diverse group of writers. Authors in attendance ranged from debut novelist Anthony Marra (A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, May 2013) to Kent Haruf, whose fifth novel, Benediction, will be released in March 2013.
According to both booksellers and reps, this annual gathering of booksellers from a huge region, geographically -- Montana south through Texas, Nevada east through Nebraska -- has become essential in recent years, especially with publishers cutting back on sending reps out on the road in primarily rural states where, often, independent bookstores are the only show in town for readers.
“We don’t get rep visits at all,” noted Gary Robson, the co-owner of Red Lodge Books & Tea in Red Lodge, Mont. Robson was only one of many booksellers who also complained about the lack of distribution centers in the region. While Cathy Langer of Denver’s Tattered Cover and Valerie Koehler of Houston’s Blue Willow Bookshop noted that laydowns are usually delivered on time, other books arrive up to a week after being shipped, which forces Langer to order more heavily to make sure there’s no disruption in stocking titles. Tommie Plank, the owner of Covered Treasures in Monument, Colo. noted that embargoed books aren’t shipped out by Ingram from its Tennessee distribution center before street date, meaning that her store receives the hottest releases a week late, which costs her in lost sales.
Issues with distribution channels for print books might account for the generally positive response to Teicher and Williams' presentation about the benefits to independent booksellers of selling both Kobo devices and content. The audience clapped with delight after Williams showed off some Kobo devices, including the five-ounce Kobo Mini, "the smallest e-reader on the market," and the illuminated Kobo Glo, which launches in Oct. for $129 retail. While two booksellers at Explore Books in Aspen, Colo. participating in a small group discussion after the presentation argued that selling digital devices and content detracted from selling print books, most of the booksellers PW talked to said they were planning on selling both Kobo devices and content. "I'm excited that the ABA has figured out a way for us to sell devices in our stores," Libby Cowles, a bookseller at Maria's Books in Durango, Colo. told PW, "It doesn't help if you sell just the content."
The booksellers’ thirst for gathering information about forthcoming releases was immediately apparent at this year’s show. The first day was turned over to 30 reps, who talked up their favorite fall and spring releases; booksellers packed the room throughout the back-to-back presentations. During a midday break, for the general meeting and luncheon, Mountains & Plains executive director Laura Ayrey swore on a Bible that she would never schedule anything that would conflict with the rep picks sessions, as she had last year, the first year she ran the show.
“When reps are excited about a book, it gets me excited,” Megan O’Sullivan, who bought Braun Books in Cedar City, Utah, north of Las Vegas, four months ago. O’Sullivan, who drove with two store employees nine hours to attend the show, says the long drive was well worth it; the trio also enjoyed visiting other bookstores along the way.
“Talking to book professionals, it pays off,” O’Sullivan said, “I need to know something about the books my customers don’t know about.”
Although there was plenty of nonfiction, biography, memoir, and regional titles on display in the bustling exhibit hall, the most sought-after galleys were by far literary and YA fiction. Besides Haruf and Marra, booksellers were buzzing about Ivan Doig’s The Bartender’s Tale (Aug.), Louise Erdrich’s Round House (Oct.), and Ian McEwan’s Sweet Tooth (Nov.).
“These famous writers are doing their best work,” declared Betsy Burton, the owner of the King’s English in Salt Lake City. It was a sentiment echoed by Gayle Shanks, the owner of Changing Hands in Tempe, Ariz., who anticipates a “huge” and “vibrant” fall, because the new releases are “incredible.” Shanks is so confident in the future of independent bookselling that she’s planning on opening a second store next year, in central Phoenix. And Burton is so confident in the power of handselling, that she is mounting a campaign to ramp up sales of backlist titles.
“If enough of us do that, maybe we can make them national bestsellers,” Burton said, “We [independent booksellers] are very knowledgeable and passionate. Let’s use that.”