A lineup of prominent keynote speakers, educational seminars led by industry pros, and a luxury resort in the Rocky Mountains at a 10,000-foot altitude resulted in a PubWest conference in Keystone, Colo., October 25–27, that heralded the organization’s leap from a regional to a national place of significance in the small press industry.
Oren Teicher, the ABA’s CEO, presented the first keynote of the conference, “The New Frontier of Bookselling,” to a group of about 200 attendees from indie presses both from the West and further afar. Emphasizing the importance of ABA members collaborating with small presses, Teicher said, “This is so relevant today. There is a symbiotic relationship between indie booksellers and publishers that makes us allies. We naturally complement one another.” Adding that indies’ 2012 sales increase of 12% is a result of entrepreneurship and adaptation, he urged attendees to participate in ABA’s Winter Institute.
Teicher noted that three things have contributed to the recent resurgence of the indies, many of whom have signed up for the new ABA/Kobo e-reader program. “The closing of Borders was a bellwether moment despite the loss of jobs,” he said. “The democratization of technology has been another. But perhaps the tipping point has been the growth of the shop local movement in the U.S., which has contributed 3.3 times more revenue to local economies in recent years.” To drive home this point Teicher noted, “You’ll even find big ‘Local’ signs in the produce section at Wal-Mart now.”
Urging the audience to “look forward, and not back,” Teicher gave a few examples of what small presses can do to improve their relationships with the indies. “Try experimenting with consignment sales,” he said. “Rebates, which encourage stores to bring in more numbers, might work, as well as dating, and category promotions. Simplify your co-op terms. There’s no barrier on the size of the house to help sell more books. Our best days are still ahead of us if we learn new ways to work together.”
At the annual PubWest membership meeting, executive director Kent Watson noted an increase in both publisher (19%) and associate (14%) membership in 2011. Incoming president Dave Trendler, of Velo Press, emphasized that membership in PubWest is open to publishers from every state; the organization moved beyond its original Western borders several years ago and now has members in 34 states and four countries. PubWest income is up 15% and operating profit almost double from last year. This year’s Rittenhouse Award, which recognizes individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the book community in the West, went to an absentee Pennie Clark Ianniciello, book buyer for Costco. The Innovator’s Award, new to the annual PubWest honors, was given to Interweave Press and accepted by senior v-p John Bolton. The company, which publishes magazines, books, and videos related to crafts and mixed media, was purchased this year by F + W Media.
About 20 exhibitors were on hand in the conference center, many of them printing and paper companies whose customers include indie presses. Staffers from Ingram and Baker & Taylor were also there. Debbie Ketel, communications director the Mount Rushmore Society, an indie press, has attended PubWest many times. “This is how I learned to get started as a publisher. Every time I’m here I get new ideas and more knowledge about making a small press grow,” she said.
Otis Chandler, CEO of Goodreads.com, gave Saturday’s keynote, “Book Discovery: Fitting the Pieces Together.” The popular Web site has 22 million monthly visitors, 12 million members, and five million unique titles since Chandler founded it six years ago. Touching on the rise in self-published books, he quoted Christopher Hitchens, who said, “Everyone has a book in them, and that’s where it should stay.”
“At Goodreads we look for the serendipitous book experience that’s not found on online booksellers’ sites,” Chandler said. One way is by getting “touchpoints”—recommendations—into the minds of readers. Chandler cited a few case studies to explain how publishers can use Goodreads to build sales, one concerning the novel Slammed by Colleen Hoover (Atria). “Nothing much happened for two months,” Chandler noted, “but then the author listed the book as a giveaway, and there was a small sales spike on the site.” Goodreads “influencers” then found the book and started blogging about it. Friends on the site discovered Slammed after that, and the word of mouth made sales skyrocket. “We call this finding an audience from scratch,” said Chandler before touching on his analysis of the Goodreads page for Things I Want to Punch in the Face by Jennifer Worick (Prospect Park Books). Reviewing the Author Page he deemed it “very good, because it includes her blog and she’s rating books... and using Goodreads as a reader member. Author involvement is very important.” Worick also had two successful Giveaways on the site, which contributed to the overall strong sales.
Following two full days of seminars and roundtable discussions, the final keynote, “BISG Presents the Book Industry By the Numbers,” was from Len Vlahos, executive director of the Book Industry Study Group. “We’re in a maturing market,” he said, while analyzing data from a variety of BISG studies, “not a mature market, or we’ve hit a plateau.”
The next PubWest conference will be held in Santa Fe, N.Mex., November 7–9, 2013.