Energetic discussions of ABA’s new IndieCommerce e-book program and a rich selection of potentially bestselling books for fall added to the generally upbeat and busy PNBA trade show in Portland, Oregon this weekend.
“This show is about quality,” said Paul Hanson, manager of Eagle Harbor Book Co. in Bainbridge Island, Wash., and a past president of PNBA. “People who come here should get what they expect in terms of authors, educational programs and networking,” he said. Eagle Harbor has had an IndieCommerce Web site since the program’s inception. “It pays for itself,” Hanson said. He’s enthusiastic about the new e-book functionality and how it will provide independent booksellers the ability to meet the burgeoning customer demand for books in a variety of formats. Referring to Amazon’s overwhelming share of the e-book market Hanson commented, “A lot of people here are angry. The willingness of our customers to so readily relinquish their intellectual tastes to the control of one huge company is disturbing.”
In keeping with the drop in PNBA’s membership since its peak in 1998 when 2,000 people came to the fall show, attendance of both booksellers and exhibitors this weekend was the lowest in many years with a turnout of 340 people. Even though the numbers were poor, PNBA’s executive director Thom Chambliss found things to praise about this year’s show. “The booksellers that are here are really active,” he said, referring to the strength and longevity of many of those in attendance. “And we have particularly important authors here this year, such as Jonathan Safran Foer and Loren Long.” In addition, the author breakfast drew a record-breaking crowd of 160 and the Author’s Feast was a sell-out. Eighty-five authors attended the show.
Sylla McClellan, owner of Third Street Books in McMinnville, Oregon, said her goal this year is to meet 2008’s numbers or beat them by a small percentage. “We’re pretty solid right now,” she said, “so it’s possible to achieve this.” McClellan had to cut expenses quite a bit this year, but the store has been able to maintain the same selection of books and customer service for its customers. Third Street Books has yet to participate in the IndieCommerce program. “I’m looking into it, but it’s expensive,” she noted. “For $225 a month I’d rather wait for ABA to iron the wrinkles out before I make a commitment.”
On the other hand, Chuck Robinson of Village Books in Bellingham, Washington is “thrilled” with ABA’s new e-book functionality and was one of the first booksellers to sign up for IndieCommerce. Robinson is also installing the Symtio cards system in October and will purchase an Espresso Book Machine. Sales at the store this year have been “OK,” noted Robinson. “It’s entirely possible we’ll be able to top 2008.”
Pennie Clark Ianniciello, Costco’s long-time book buyer, made a welcomed surprise visit to the show on Friday after not attending PNBA for 10 years. “I’m here to support my local book community,” she explained. Ianniciello, who served on the board of PNBA at one time, noted that this is her 20-year anniversary with Costco. She attended the show with buying assistant Jonna Erickson. “We’re looking for regional treasures here,” Ianniciello said. “And it’s good to see so many old friends.”
Most booksellers at the show were unanimous in their predictions of the biggest books for Christmas. Pat Conroy’s South of Broad (Nan A. Talese), E.L. Doctorow’s Homer & Langley (Random House), the picture book Otis, by Loren Long (Philomel); Half Broke Horses, by Jeanette Walls (Scribner); John Irving’s Last Night in Twisted River (Random House), Barbara Kingsolver’s TheLacuna (HarperCollins) and Lorrie Moore’s A Gate at the Stairs (Knopf) were among the favorites.
Although rumors were flying across the convention floor that this might be the final PNBA trade show, Chambliss declared otherwise. “We’ll definitely be back next year. The membership and the board voted on this yesterday,” he said. While the venue will change, the show will still be held in the Portland area. “We talked reality at the membership meeting. PNBA is on course to lose between $90,000 and $100,000 operating dollars this year,” added Chambliss. “Some booksellers will close if they don’t do well at Christmas. We’ll probably have to cut back on staff, and while PNBA will maintain its book awards in 2010 we’ll have to eliminate the presentation party.” The association has also suffered from a decline in its holiday catalogue income.
Oren Teicher, ABA’s new CEO, attended the show and gave informal presentations of IndieCommerce and its e-book feature. “So far there has been enormous interest in the e-book functionality. Nobody knows how big this piece of the business will be,” he said, “but our members need that piece. They need to be empowered.” Paul Hanson had a different twist on the evolving e-book market.. “We can look at this issue like people used to approach the gun moratorium: trade in your Kindles for Sony eReaders.”