This year’s 40th New England Independent Booksellers Association fall conference, held at the Rhode Island Convention Center in Providence (Oct. 6-8), was upbeat despite the government shutdown and concerns over a drop in revenue from one of its biggest fundraisers, the NEIBA holiday catalogue.Although at least one local publisher at the conference was affected by the national parks putting off book purchases because of the shutdown, most New England booksellers have not been affected. If anything, they are growing.
Last week outgoing NEIBA president Annie Philbrick, co-owner of Bank Square Books in Mystic, Ct., announced that the store will take over the adjoining storefront and add another 1,800 sq. ft. of selling space. Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord, N.H., recently moved and more than doubled in size. Owner Michael Herrmann said that the new store is not only hitting its numbers, but they’re “big numbers.” Another reason for good spirits was the sense that books aren’t going away. “It’s so clear to me that the whole e-book thing is over. It has peaked,” said David Didriksen, president of Willow Books & Cafe in Acton, Mass. “Many people have figured out that they like both.” Didriksen described sales at Willow Books as better than two years ago, but not as good as six years ago, before the economy crashed.
Not that booksellers don’t continue to need to be vigilant. As Scott Turow, author of Identical (Oct. 15) and president of the Authors Guild noted in his opening keynote, “One of the most daunting things for me is the array of forces aligned against authors and booksellers, the largest companies in the world: Amazon, Apple, and Google.” Like booksellers elsewhere, NEIBA members voiced concern about the simultaneous release of e-books and physical books. To their question about it, Turow responded, “[Publishers] are scared of Amazon. Amazon took their lunch money. Amazon’s argument is, if you don’t do it, these books will just be pirated. They made a mistake, a big mistake.”
Authors were front and center not just at the show’s opening, but at two breakfasts, which included children’s and adult writers ranging from Maggie Stiefvater (Raven Cycle 2: The Dream Thieves), to David Wiesner (Mr. Wuffles!), Daniel Menaker (My Mistake), and Jayne Anne Phillips (Quiet Dell). NEIBA presented its New England Book Awards to B.A. Shapiro for fiction for The Art Forger, Nathaniel Philbrick for nonfiction for Bunker Hill, and Chris Van Dusen for children’s for If I Built a House, as well as a President’s Award to Wendell and Florence Minor. In a nod to its ruby anniversary, the organization invited back retired sales reps, who also took a bow during the awards ceremony.
In addition to an author-filled conference, which also included a 21-author reception, there were numerous educational sessions, with many attracting upwards of 70 booksellers. Most focused on best practices and how-to’s on subjects such as the Common Core, remainder buying, inventory control, and Edelweiss. At one on working with self-published authors Tom Holbrook, manager of RiverRun Bookstore in Portsmouth, N.H., was the only panelist to provide printing services through his Piscataqua Press. He was also the only one to lower the percentage he takes from self-published authors. “We’re moving to 70/30,” he said, “because I know an independent bookstore is where a self-published author makes the least amount of money. They can make more money online.” Moderator Susan Mercier, manager of Edgartown Books in Edgartown, Mass., has done well with super-local books no matter the price, like a $175 collection of aerial photographs of Martha’s Vineyard. Gotham just reissued an island self-publishing favorite, Paul Samuel Dolman’s Hitchhiking with Larry David.
A panel on author events, moderated by Susanna Hermans, incoming NEIBA president and co-owner of Oblong Books in Rhinebeck, N.Y., offered a number of tips. “If it’s an event I really want,” said panelist Stephanie Schmidt of Water Street Books in Exeter, N.H., “I loop in my sales rep.” Jamie Tan at Brookline Booksmith in Brookline, Mass., is a big believer in Instagram for filling out grids. It gives publicists an immediate look at the store. She also keeps her press contacts in a Google doc, which she shares with publicists, and Wi-Fi passwords to all venues, to make it easier to set up at offsite events. Jan Hall, co-owner of Partners Village in Westport, Mass., only books authors with local connections, but does well with authorless events, particularly with animals. Alpacas are a big favorite at her store, as is Dachshund Day.
The emphasis on programming struck a chord with Skylar Atkins, a bookseller at the Vermont Book Shop in Middlebury, Vt., who was attending his second NEIBA trade show: “I probably took the most from the sessions and also from talking to other shops of comparable size.” Added Judy Manzo, owner of Book Ends in Winchester, Mass., “I enjoyed the whole thing. We need this immersion with each other.” Final attendance figures were not available at press time, but executive director Steve Fischer said that it looked like the show was even with last year and drew 700 people. Meal attendance was up: both breakfasts were sold out, the Publishers’ Pick-Nic Lunch broke previous records with 140 booksellers and 29 reps, and nearly 200 attended the awards dinner.