Given today’s economic realities—the continued decline in bookstore sales and in the number of independent booksellers—the 34th annual NEIBA trade show in Providence, R.I., September 27-29, was a decided bright spot. While there were a few notable faces missing, among them longtime NEIBA executive director Rusty Drugan, who died last year, a number of younger booksellers stepped in to take leadership roles on the new NEIBA board and on the educational panels. The upbeat mood was no doubt enhanced by the Red Sox’s win of the AL East title.
Going into the show, 200 fewer people preregistered than attended last year. But according to executive director Steve Fischer, attendance ran about even with last year: 930 booksellers, 450 exhibitors and 132 authors for a total of 1,512. “All and all,” said Fischer, “I was pleased.”
NEIBA’s decision to move the show forward by a day and turn the Friday-Sunday event into a Thursday-Saturday one was applauded by booksellers. “I think it was time to change. I like not having to work seven days a week,” said Jane Dawson, cofounder of Porter Square Books in Cambridge, Mass. Booksellers also appreciated this year’s Author Reception, which replaced the Movable Feast. “I loved the author events,” said Sandy Vogels, events coordinator at Maine Coast Book Shop in Damariscotta. “It feels like the show is as good as ever.” Added Joan Grenier, co-owner of Odyssey Bookshop in South Hadley, Mass., “The breakfast with Paul Krugman, Geraldine Brooks and Ha Jin was one of the best breakfasts in recent memory.”
Many of the educational sessions, which covered such topics as Top 10 Things You Need to Know About Selling Children’s Books and Loyalty Programs, were as well attended as in years past. Although the trade floor was relatively empty for much of Friday, it was a different story on Saturday, when there was no educational programming to compete for bookseller attention. A few booksellers remarked on empty tables at the awards luncheon on Thursday, where Simon & Schuster rep Katie McGarry received the Gilman Award, Richard Russo the President’s Award and New England Mobile Book Fair the Book Publishers Representatives of New England Independent Spirit Award, and at the children’s dinner that evening.
Most publishers liked the new format. “There were slow patches,” said Ron Koltnow, district sales manager at Random House. “But there’s something about the feeling of the show. I thought it was more collegial. I’ve yet to hear anybody crying the blues. And I made good contacts here: reading group coordinators, people who have talk shows and blogs. If we can get our books in front of people, it’s worth it to attend.”
Publishers would like to see some tweaking to get more booksellers on the show floor and at book buzz sessions. Changes may be necessary for another reason. In his report, NEIBA treasurer Mitch Gaslin, co-owner of Food for Thought Books in Amherst, Mass., cited the increased expense of the trade show as one of the reasons for NEIBA’s deficit budget for two years in a row.
Next year, the NEIBA trade show will return to Boston, September 18-20, at the Hynes Auditorium.