Following successful trade shows in the South and in Southern California, the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association is contributing to what is starting to look like a trend by holding one of its best fall conferences in many years at the DoubleTree by Hilton Somerset Hotel in Somerset, N.J., from September 30-October 2. Some, like Adele Herman of Como Sales, who wrote more orders than she has in years, called it “the best.” Although executive director Eileen Dengler said that attendance was even with last year’s gathering in Crystal City, Md., with close to 180 booksellers from 74 bookstores, there was a decidedly upbeat mood that even the government shutdown, which could undermine a good October particularly for member stores in the metro-Washington, D.C. area, couldn’t dim. As Cindy Raiton, president of sales at Bookazine, noted, “the energy seems to show the resurgence of independents.”
That resurgence was evident with the continued launch of new bookstores, like the Bloody Candlestick Mystery Bookshop, which will open in a few weeks in Buffalo, N.Y., and with strong sales for stores open less than five years or that have recently changed hands like One More Page Books in Arlington, Va., and Doylestown Bookstore in Doylestown, Pa., which has seen up sales since its purchase by Glenda Childs in May, 2012. Other new stores like Novel Places in Clarksburg, Md., which has overcome adversity and being forced to move twice since it opened two-and-a-half years ago, are now on track. Novel Places moved across the street in May to a much more visible 1,200 sq. ft. location and saw sales go from 40% down to a record-breaking summer. NAIBA, too, is growing. Bill Reilly, co-owner of the River’s End Bookstore in Oswego, N.Y., reported 128 member stores, up from 118 in 2012.
The conference began with dinner and an hour-long tour of the Baker & Taylor warehouse in Bridgewater, N.J., which can process up to 150,000 books a day. And like every event there were plenty of authors on hand to sign books—17, including Wally Lamb (We Are Water), who also spoke. Author breakfasts and the awards banquet were filled with booksellers eager to hear Joyce Carol Oates (Carthage), David Wiesner (Mr. Wuffles!), Judy Blume, winner of the NAIBA Legacy Award and of the Carla Cohen Free Speech Award, and many others, including Eloisa James (Once Upon a Tower), who made an impassioned speech for booksellers to stock romance.
A number of the sessions focused on nuts and bolts like ones on the Common Core, the Affordable Health Care Act, and store design led by Donna Paz Kaufman and Mark Kaufman of Paz & Associates. The show’s big idea session, like all of the programming, was focused around the theme of What’s in Store? Moderated by Lissa Muscatine, co-owner of Politics & Prose Bookstore in Washington, D.C., it attempted to look at the market changes taking place. Panelist Simon Boughton of Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group said, “I don’t think anybody has a clear idea of what the children’s book market will look like when digital matures. There’s a difference in the way adults want to interact with a child with a book.” Dennis Johnson, cofounder of Melville House, who worked at Brookline Booksmith in Brookline, Mass., when he was growing up, spoke about how recent shifts have affected print runs. “Borders is gone; Barnes & Noble is shrinking; Amazon has realized it doesn’t have to have a lot in their warehouse. We’ve got to collude,” he said, “to put it in the language of the day.” Ruth Liebmann, v-p, director of account marketing at Random House, also focused on why independents have become so important to publishers—and it’s not just lip service. She encouraged booksellers to make noise early about the books they like. “Even though it’s an unsettling time. You see ‘disruption’ in the media, it’s a huge opportunity for the indies. Borders has closed, everybody is looking at the independents. You have a moment.”
Just how much of a moment it is varied from bookseller to bookseller. Several, including Jonathan Welch, owner of Talking Leaves...Books in Buffalo, N.Y., voiced a concern for books like Dan Brown’s Inferno, where simultaneous e-book releases have cut into sales. “Windowing would help us,” he said. Margot Sage-EL, owner of Watchung Booksellers in Montclair, N.J., wondered why, if authors want their books released in all formats at publication, publishers can’t do simultaneous paperback releases. The idea of simultaneous paperbacks, but for children’s trade titles that could be used in the schools, also arose during q-and-a for Common Core. But what distinguished the show despite concerns about competition with Amazon and discounters is the sense that indie booksellers’ time has come. And they’re doing their best to turn it into a full revival, region by region, NAIBA included.