Less than a week after BookExpo America and the launch of IndieBound, the American Booksellers Association's program to spur the development of new buy local organizations, COO Oren Teicher unveiled the project to a broader range of businesses at the sixth annual conference of the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE). More than 500 graphic designers, marketing consultants and organic farmers attended the conference at Boston University earlier this month.
BALLE provided an apt setting for the introduction of IndieBound, given that it was specifically designed to assist business alliance umbrella organizations. In addition, BALLE has played a key role in nurturing sustainable Local First organizations to which many independent booksellers belong, from Village Books in Bellingham, Wash., to Porter Square Books in Cambridge, Mass.
At least one bookstore, Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza in Albany, N.Y., attended BALLE instead of BEA. “Going to BALLE gives you a different way to look at your business, not just by being good booksellers but by focusing on community,” explained Book House marketing and events coordinator Susan Taylor, a board member of the Capital District Local First. “It really was inspirational.”
“It was very uplifting. There's a movement that's growing,” noted BALLE cofounder Laury Hammel, chair of the conference, who sees IndieBound as complementary to BALLE. “The IndieBound program is another way to leverage the work we do. We believe the Local First campaigns are tailor-made for booksellers. Booksellers are our number-one industry in leading these campaigns.” In fact, Hammel, who lives in Cambridge, Mass., has begun teaming up with the New England Independent Booksellers Association to recruit more Local First organizations in the region. “We've got 15,” he said. “We're looking for 50 to 100.”
For its part, ABA is trying to assist Local First recruitment in New England and throughout the country through IndieBound. “One of the overriding themes of the preconference at BALLE was to emphasize how collaborative this movement is. And we hope to be contributing to the range of resources that are available,” said Teicher. In ABA's opinion, he noted, the growth of Local First/Shop Local efforts is linked to the survival of its members.
ABA continues to invest in IndieBound, for which “Liberation” boxes were recently sent to booksellers. Just before BEA, it hired Paige Poe to the newly created job of IndieBound outreach liaison. She and other ABA staffers will conduct IndieBound info sessions for booksellers throughout the summer. In addition, for next year's Winter Institute in Salt Lake City, according to Teicher, ABA is considering hands-on sessions, where it will distribute sample applications for acquiring 501(c)3 and/or 501(c)6 nonprofit status and explain the advantages of each.
If, as the ABA noted in its initial announcement of IndieBound, Local First movements are at a tipping point, there were plenty of people at the BALLE conference who agreed. In his keynote address, author Bill McKibben (Deep Economy) pointed to statistics indicating that Americans drove less in 2007 than 2006 and stopped building bigger houses farther apart. “There's a rejiggering of the American dream,” he said. “In 1893, Frederick Jackson Turner said the American frontier had closed. In 2008, the frontier of absolute endless mobility is closing. The most important reason this change is good news is not so much ecological as psychological. It forces us to become part of a community.”
For BALLE members, that community is based on what Eric Henry, co-owner of TS Designs, a textile manufacturer in North Carolina, calls the three Ps: “people,” “profit” and “planet.” In fact, one of the attractions of BALLE for board member Chris Morrow, general manager of Northshire Bookstore in Manchester Center, Vt., is its emphasis on the triple bottom line: measuring a business in terms of social and environmental values as well as economics. While some prefer not to link sustainability with shop-local efforts, he disagrees. “As community stewards,” said Morrow, who is also on the board of Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility, “it is preferable for booksellers to be in the vanguard of the sustainability revolution.”
By contrast, said former BALLE board member Betsy Burton, owner of the King's English in Salt Lake City, “in my opinion what's really of interest for booksellers is the local piece. This is the thing we all have in common.” As an active member of both BALLE and AMIBA (American Independent Business Alliance) and cofounder of Utah's statewide local first organization, what she sees as the next step is making Local First programs “spread like a virus.” To do so, Burton encourages booksellers and other independent business owners to borrow tools like decals, Local First directories and IndieBound material. She advocates adopting the 8 Cs: “community, connection, commonality and then copy, copy, copy, copy, copy.”