At Thursday afternoon’s Town Hall Forum and American Booksellers Association Annual Meeting, it was clear that many indie bookstores in the U.S. are doing fine—sales were up 8% in 2012 and continuing to hold in the first quarter of the year. Although booksellers continue to confront a changing industry, none of the issues roiling independent bookselling are of the same magnitude as in 2011, when ABA CEO Oren Teicher used the meeting to call on publishers to partner with booksellers to move industry models from business as usual circa 1960.
Teicher’s report this year offered news of a segment coming back, with membership up for the fourth year in a row and strong finances. “The good news,” he said, “is that the majority of our publishing colleagues have recognized the unique role of indie bookstores.” As a result, booksellers are benefitting from changes like rapid replenishment, simplified co-op, and improved margin. Nonetheless, Teicher called on ABA’s publishing partners to redouble their efforts. “Our initial successes only highlight the potential of what can be achieved,” he said.
Other positive news included the fact that six months after the shift from Google to Kobo, ABA stores are selling significantly more e-books. And beginning next month Kobo will do more to up that number by funding an NPR campaign to feature its e-readers and e-books on All Things Considered; Morning Edition; Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me; Weekend Edition; and Ask Me Another.
Teicher also noted the success of last fall’s Thanks for Shopping Indie promotion, which is being replicated in additional indie-wide promotions this summer and fall. “Importantly, during, and immediately following, the promotion,” he said, “the sales of the featured titles rose across other channels as well, making clear, once again, the unique and essential role bricks-and-mortar bookstores play in the discovery and sales of titles across all channels.”
In her report, Becky Anderson, outgoing president of the ABA and co-owner of Anderson’s Bookshops in Naperville, Ill., told her colleagues, “I think if we invest in one another, then we’re going to succeed. It will come back to us in spades.” Like Teicher, she noted a changed in the way publishers view independents and their importance in selling books. Incoming president Steve Bercu, co-owner of BookPeople in Austin, Tex., noted that in addition to the “substantial” number of new members, 65, ABA is approaching 2,000 locations. “That’s a good number to cross,” he said.
At the Town Hall, which gives booksellers a chance to be heard on issues large and small, Peter Glassman, owner of Books of Wonder in New York City, called for ABA to create a committee to recommend best practices to publishers on everything from invoicing to shipping. He also requested a return to paper catalogs, not to supplant Edelweiss but to complement it. Colleen Kammer, co-owner of The Book Beat in Oak Park, Mich., asked ABA to launch the bookstore equivalent of Record Store Day, which even includes original content. Bookstores in Northern California are already working on a similar program for the fall, according to Bercu. It could serve as a test for the rest of the country.
At Ye Olde Warwick Book Shoppe in Warwick, N.J., owner Tom Robertson, questioned fair practices, and whether pub dates for e-books could be windowed. Bercu responded that up until now publishers have been afraid that if there is a lag time between the release of the e-book and p-book that there would be piracy. Other questions concerned the status of the Marketplace Fairness Act, which overwhelming passed the Senate. It now faces what ABA CEO Oren Teicher termed “a tougher fight” in the Congress. One questioner expressed concern about the three-month time lag and publicity lag between when givers sign up to hand out books for World Book Night and the big night in April. It’s causing lost momentum.
For Gayle Shanks, co-owner of Changing Hands in Tempe, Ariz., it seemed like there was a missing piece to this year’s show. “I feel like I’m missing my colleagues in publishing houses. I don’t see as many people,” she said, adding that that’s the reason she comes to ABA. Another Changing Hands co-owner, Bob Sommer, spoke about ABA’s shipping program, which is not working for him. “I am getting shipping at three, four, or five other places for less. If you’re using partnerships, you can be saving money,” he said. And Ed Conklin at Chaucer’s Books in Santa Barbara, Calif., gave “a commercial,” for Zola Books, championing it as a good option for indies to sell e-books.
Steven Rosato, event director of BookExpo America, said that he was pleased with the show’s first day: “The WiFi worked; the air conditioning was good; and the aisles were jammed.” He also spoke about Saturday’s Power Readers Day. Although BEA had originally planned for 2,000 consumers, he anticipates that that figure could rise and possibly be capped at 3,000 or 3,500. But, he added, there will still be another 8,000 booksellers, librarians, and bloggers attending the show, so the day won’t be dominated by consumers. To a question from Rozanne Seelen, owner of the 96-year-old Drama Book Shop in New York City, about publishers selling to consumers direct at the show, Rosato said, “It’s economically unfeasible to sell books here. The major publishers, they want no part of it.” Only those with smaller booths, 10 X 30 or less, can sell.