At the American Booksellers Association Town Hall Forum on Thursday, booksellers raised a range of issues, from whether the ABA should be promoting Scientology books in white boxes to booksellers—a subject to be referred to the Bookseller Advisory Board—to paying a living wage.

“I’ve always felt that the rhetoric [around minimum wage] conceals a lack of concern about employees,” Genevieve Fuller, manager of Towne Center Books in Pleasanton, Calif., said. In an impassioned speech she spoke about the need for affordable health insurance and better pay. “If I have an emergency, I don’t want to move back with my parents,” she said.

ABA CEO Oren Teicher responded that the organization doesn’t have the critical mass to make it happen. “There is nobody more frustrated not to be able to offer health insurance,” he said. John Evans of Diesel, with three stores in California, added, “Everyone on the board is for increasing wages and healthcare.”

The problem is paying for it. One suggestion from Bill Petrocelli of Book Passage in Corte Madera, Calif., is to remove the retail prices from books, so as to offer greater pricing flexibility. “We’re like serfs; there’s no reason for it to continues.” Others, like Pete Mulvihill of Green Apple Books in San Francisco are more divided. On the one hand they would like to set their own pricing. On the other, he said, “Everything I sell in my store is cheaper elsewhere. I don’t know if I can get away with it.”

ABA is working with a publisher (who was not identified) on a small test on select backlist books to see what would happen if the cover price were removed. For now though, a straw poll indicated that booksellers are evenly split among those wanting to remove the price, those opposed, and those undecided.

Matt Keliher at Subtext Books in St. Paul, Minn., asked about getting publishers to follow the UK model of universal billing. ABA president Betsy Burton of The King’s English in Salt Lake City, replied that ABA is already on it. It is looking to copy England’s Batch online payment system.

Another concern for Joe Hyde of Best of Books in Edmond, Okla., is what ABA is planning to do following the release of its Empty Storefronts study. Teicher said that the ABA will update the study annually. “We hope it will be replicated in the U.K. We believe it’s a global issue,” he said.

For Casey Protti of Bookshop Santa Cruz in Santa Cruz, Calif., education is a concern. “I want to focus on professional development opportunities and training modules to make bookselling a real career choice.” Bob Baird at The Book Bin in Carvallis, Ore., seconded Protti on the need for education. In his case the concern is basic staff training.

In the segue into the Annual Meeting, Robert Sindelar at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park, Wash, said that his report is “easy and fun.” Membership, he said, was up by 63 stores since last year’s BEA for a total of 1,775 stores with over 2,300 outlets. The good news also includes the fact that sales in the indie channel up more than 5% for the first four months of 2016.

“For many years, the conventional wisdom had written off indie bookstores,” Oren said. “Some pundits had even written off the physical book. But the recent years of resurgence for independents have completely changed that narrative.”

Teicher attributed the shift to the localism movement, new technology, publishers’ initiatives, and the ability of booksellers to connect authors and readers.

On the technology front, ABA continues to make changes, including improvements in customer check-out for IndieCommerce and a new platform next month for the Book Buyer’s Handbook on the ABA website (, along with added staff to support it.

Education continues to remain ABA’s top priority, Teicher said. In addition to its commitment to provide programming for Winter Institute, Children’s Institute, the Spring Forums, the Fall Regional Shows, and BEA, ABA is launching two new initiatives. It will add a daylong workshop on bookstore finances and one on leadership, based on a popular session at WI.

Teicher said that the ABA continues to work with publishers in reinventing the ways they do business together. Among the programs that Teicher singled out are rapid replenishment and simplified co-op. ABA is currently in discussions about backlist and returns. “We hope to have much more to say about new initiatives in the months ahead,” he noted.

The ABA comeback is not without challenges, he said, alluding to the discussion of minimum wage in the Town Hall, as well as occupancy costs.

Despite the problems, Teicher said, “I think this is our moment and we can’t let it go to waste. I’m absolutely confident that the greatest days of bookselling remain ahead of us.”