Today’s regional bookseller association shows have come a long way from the days when bookstore buyers and publisher representatives marked the change in seasons by gathering in carpeted hotel parking lots for a day or two to talk about holiday titles. Yes, fall books are still front and center, but so are spring titles.
The regionals offer publishers an opportunity to make books on next season’s list, like Random House did so effectively last year with Cheryl Strayed’s Wild. With declining attendance at most shows, bookseller associations are trying to shake things up without increasing dues. Some are moving to locations with free parking, like the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association, which is also shortening its show from three days to two. The Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance is testing the waters on the Gulf Coast of Florida, while the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association will be back in Tacoma for the first time in a decade at an independent hotel.
Arguably no bookselling groups have made as dramatic a shift as the Great Lakes Independent Booksellers and Midwest Independent Booksellers Associations, which are holding their first-ever joint show, the Heartland Fall Forum. Publishers have lobbied for much of the past decade for regionals to combine shows. For many, it simply doesn’t make sense, but a joint GLIBA/MIBA offers advantages for both publishers and booksellers. As Carrie Obry, executive director of MIBA, points out about a combined event: “You see more people and share more ideas.” The American Booksellers Association is supporting the effort by hosting a one-day Events Specialty Institute in the same location the day before the forum starts. And publishers have contributed money for 30 travel scholarships, $400 apiece, to make it more affordable for distant booksellers to attend. In addition, publishers are supporting the show by taking booths, so many that the organizers have had to replace tables with booths to meet the demand. Heartland is one of the few shows that will sell out its exhibit space.
“We’re very optimistic,” says Obry of the two-year experiment—this year in Minneapolis in MIBA territory, next year near Chicago’s O’Hare Airport closer to GLIBA members. “I would stress that we really look at this as a packed event with inspiration. We’re doing that to deliver the message that booksellers are loved and needed, and we want to see them last.” At a time when regional coffers are hurting, combining makes a lot of sense. Plus, as GLIBA executive director Deb Leonard points out, there are few drawbacks for booksellers. “A cookbook from Wisconsin would be applicable in Ohio. It all has the same Heartland feel,” she says. “A lot of the reps are the same.” The goal is to draw 350–400 booksellers, about double the attendance in many smaller shows.
“My show is always author-centric,” says Wanda Jewell, executive director of SIBA, who has scheduled more than 100 authors to appear at this year’s show. Both PNBA and Heartland will also top the 100 mark. “Booksellers love meeting the authors,” adds Steve Fischer, executive director of the New England Independent Booksellers Association. “Every one of our [bookseller] surveys says that that’s a key reason they attend.”
Author events, however, are coming in for some tweaking this fall. “We decided that we know that the trade show is the most important thing we offer our members, so we wanted to refine it,” says Laura Ayrey, executive director of MPIBA. That means turning the author tea for adult titles into a Books and Brews, and cutting the exhibits down to a single day. Many regionals are reorganizing to accommodate the increased number of local authors available, particularly at a time when many large houses have cut back on booth space and on the number of big name authors making the regional circuit. PNBA is adding an opening night buffet with seven area authors at King’s Books in Tacoma, Wash. Heartland is adding keynotes to other events to accommodate more authors and invited regional favorite Michael Perry, author of Visiting Tom, to emcee its awards reception.
Heartland is also one of several shows to play off the idea of indie booksellers as celebrities, à la Ann Patchett, author of State of Wonder and co-founder of Parnassus Books in Nashville. The forum will open with a reception in honor of independent bookselling and a conversation with bookseller/authors, hosted by Hans Weyandt, co-owner of Micawber’s in St. Paul, Minn., and editor of Read This!: Handpicked Favorites from America’s Indie Bookstores. He will interview writer and Prairie Home Companion host Garrison Keillor, co-owner of Common Good Books in St. Paul, and author Louise Erdrich, owner of Birchbark Books & Native Gifts in Minneapolis.
Authors are front and center in California, where the Southern California Independent Booksellers Association will bring together 40 authors and more than 250 booksellers for a single day on the Queen Mary, in what executive director Jennifer Bigelow dubs the “Schmooze Cruise II.”
Although the ABA’s Winter Institute and year-round programming by the regionals has done a good job educating booksellers, the fall events still contain educational programming to fill in any holes and inform booksellers who can’t get to Winter Institute or BookExpo. With ABA about to announce how it will replace its e-book partnership with Google, probably the most anticipated program across the board will be an ABA session on selling e-books. SIBA is planning to augment the presentation with a workshop on how booksellers can use inexpensive e-book authoring tools to create unique e-books for their stores. Some shows are also doing literacy programming in conjunction with the ABC Group at ABA.
A number of shows are organized around a specific theme. Much of the thrust of the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers show has long been on selling more books. This year the organization is bumping it up a notch by calling their show Get Noticed. The goal is to address what executive director Eileen Dengler views as two key concerns for booksellers in her area: How am I going to get customers in my store? and How am I going to get them to buy from me rather than Amazon? Programming geared to getting noticed includes a behind-the-scenes tour of Politics & Prose in Washington, D.C., and sessions on building a better relationship with publishers’ publicity staff and getting staff to think of themselves as more than simply “clerks.”
Two key component of most shows continue to be the rep picks along with exhibits. Seeing the books is an important part of the show, but one that PNBA executive director Thom Chambliss worries could disappear in the not too distant future. Most shows have cut exhibits to a single day. PNBA gives publishers the option to stay for a second day, then it uses the vacated space for programming on the floor. He sees publishers using Winter Institute as a platform to build national authors, and has encountered difficulty getting publishers to donate 50 books to PNBA to book regional authors who contact him directly about appearing at the show. “The emphasis is changing with the business,” says Chambliss. “Publishers aren’t turning to the shows for sales. It could be in the next few years we wouldn’t have exhibits. Booksellers want to see a sales rep. For 95% of our stores, the show is the only time they see a rep.” To encourage orders, Chambliss compiles a list of show specials.
Exhibits may change but rep-pick session remain vital for publishers like Random. “It’s a powerful thing to have a sales rep based in a local community talking about books. It’s very different from the chemistry at BEA or Winter Institute. We’re also very supportive of the associations that are doing outreach to the local library communities, like PNBA,” says Ruth Liebmann, v-p, director of account marketing at Random House.
While attendance could be lighter at many of this year’s regional shows, that isn’t necessarily a cause for doom and gloom. Many stores are continuing to see double- digit growth, a trend that goes back to last year’s holiday season. “Independents are seeing strong sustained growth,” says executive director Hut Landon, who has seen the same number of bookstores represented at NCIBA for each of the past five years, 110 to 125. He credits the strength of independents to Borders’s closing coupled with the visibility of the Shop Local movement and stores investing in their Web sites. Between Berkeley, Oakland, and San Francisco, Landon notes, there are 60 indies and a single Barnes & Noble.
Fall 2012 Regional Trade Shows
Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance Trade Show
Naples Grande Beach Resort in Naples, Fla.
For more information: www.tradeshow.sibaweb.com
Mountains & Plains Independent Booksellers Association
Renaissance Denver Hotel in Denver.
For more information: www.mountainsplains.org
New Atlantic Independent Booksellers
Hyatt Regency Crystal City at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport
For more information: www.newatlanticbooks.com
New England Independent Booksellers
Rhode Island Convention Center in Providence, R.I.
For more information: www.newenglandbooks.org
Heartland Fall Forum
The Depot in Minneapolis
For more information: www.heartlandfallforum.org
Northern California Independent Booksellers Association
South San Francisco Conference Center in South San Francisco, Calif.
For more information: www.nciba.com
Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association
Hotel Murano in Tacoma, Wash.
For more information: www.pnba.org
Southern California Independent Booksellers Association
Queen Mary in Long Beach, Calif.
For more information: www.scibabooks.org