Despite a winter storm that paralyzed much of the Great Plains region Thursday, almost 500 booksellers from all over the country succeeded in getting to the Westin Hotel Crown Center in downtown Kansas City for Winter Institute 8. The annual gathering of independent booksellers, publishers, and authors kicked off Friday evening with a reception hosted by Andrews McMeel at the historic Union Station. Oren Teicher, the ABA’s CEO, told PW at Sunday evening’s author reception that 95% of the booksellers from 270 stores that had registered actually attended; there were only about 40 cancellations related to the weather from approximately two dozen bookstores.
"It says something about these folks that they were resilient enough to get here," Teicher told PW, referring to the fact that the storm closed the Kansas City International Airport and transformed roads into sheets of ice. "They’re used to fighting to keep their stores open; they were fighting to get here," he said. Dan Cullen, ABA’s content officer, added that the obstacles presented by the weather “gave an extra energy and zest” to the institute, whose attendees traded travel horror stories with one another throughout the weekend, when they weren’t talking shop, that is.
The theme of the resilience of independent booksellers in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles resounded during the plenary sessions and programming as well. Opening plenary speaker sociologist Daniel Pink, whose latest book, To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others, was published by Riverhead in December, told booksellers that “sales isn’t what it used to be, it’s not Glengarry Glen Ross anymore.” Most people, he said, spend 40% of their time in sales, even when money is not being exchanged, with the best salespersons being “ambiverts,” neither too extroverted nor too introverted. According to Pink, success in sales, as in life, hinges on three qualities: “attunement, buoyancy, and clarity.”
“Serve first, sell later,” Pink urged his audience, “It’s less important to be efficient and more important to be brave.” Suggesting that booksellers should embrace their roles as curators and build upon their knowledge implementing such strategies as asking visiting authors for book recommendations, Pink disclosed that he himself had taken his own advice. He had earlier consulted with renowned business experts about how booksellers could best build upon the strengths they already possess, and relayed from them practical suggestions like wearing shirts that clearly state, “Ask me what I’m reading.”
The next morning’s plenary speaker, cultural historian Malcolm Gladwell, whose book, David and Goliath, is scheduled to be published by Little Brown this fall, even though he admitted having just turned in the manuscript to his publisher, expounded upon the theme. Relating how a basketball team of 12-year-old "nerdy" girls in Menlo Park, Calif. persevered against bigger and better opponents by capitalizing upon what others would consider to be their weaknesses, much as David, armed only with a slingshot, persevered against his bigger, better-armed opponent, Goliath in the Biblical story, Gladwell pointed out that "compensation strategies are as important as capitalization strategies."
Being bigger doesn’t necessarily mean being better, he argued, noting that the “considered environment” of independent bookstores provides an excellent example of his point.
“Amazon has made you better booksellers, “ Gladwell pointed out, “It has forced you to differentiate yourselves. In a sense, Amazon has made you stronger.”
The show, which officially ends this evening, whether or not a second storm blows through Kansas City today as weather forecasters are predicting, is earning high marks from booksellers on all counts. Booksellers flocked to such sessions as an update on KOBO, “Managing a PR Plan with Limited Resources” and Nonfiction Buying With Core Curriculum in Mind” during the day Saturday, before assembling in a ballroom that evening to drink locally-brewed Boulevard beer, while Kansas City Star journalist Steve Paul interviewed Alex George, the author of Wi8 “One Institute, One Read,” A Good American. Sunday afternoon, while a contingent of booksellers visited CAMEX, which is being held at the Kansas City Convention Center, and browsed for sidelines, others enjoyed a busman’s holiday by attending a reception at Rainy Day Books, just over the state line, in Fairway, Kansas.
Wi8 bookseller Laurie Stephens, who bought Mystery Lovers Bookshop in Oakmont, Penn., in July, told PW that she’d last attended Winter Institute in 2007, when it was held in Portland, Ore.
“It’s changed so much in the past six years,” she said, “It was so much smaller, and there wasn’t as much going on. It’s a great combination of big ideas like Daniel Pink and Malcolm Gladwell, and then the sharing of small ideas with other booksellers. I think this really expresses what Winter Institute is all about.”