Batch for the Bottom Line

With more than 150 booksellers attending the Town Hall and Annual Meeting, American Booksellers Association CEO Oren Teicher urged booksellers to push American publishers to debut the centralized web-based invoicing program Batch. The use of Batch, Teicher said, would create an opportunity for indie booksellers to radically streamline invoicing, payments, and returns.

“I can’t overstate what a game-changing event Batch could be for the bottom line of indie bookstores of all sizes,” Teicher said. “The enormous gains in efficiency would be extraordinary boons to both bookstores and our publishing partners.”

The ABA worked with a handful of independent bookstores to pilot the online invoice payment program over the past year. The pilot was done in partnership with the U.K.’s Batch organization, which launched in 2000 and already works with many U.S. publishing houses to service bookstores in the U.K. and Ireland. Formal conversations between the ABA and Batch began over a decade ago.

“We have made substantial progress in bringing Batch to the U.S.,” said Teicher, “but we continue to need your help in convincing all our vendors that their participation is critical. ABA, working together with the BA [the U.K. Booksellers Association], is committed to putting the resources to bear that will be necessary to launch Batch. There are vendors already poised to join us, but more must join their ranks.”

To support their efforts, Teicher said that the board voted earlier in the week to make a “serious financial commitment” to bringing Batch to the United States in January 2019.

Earlier in the session, Sarah Bagby, owner of Watermark Books & Café in Wichita, Kans., praised the ABA’s efforts to applause from the audience. “Thank you for your work on Batch because we still write so many checks,” said Bagby. “This [development] speaks to the efficiency that a business can manage.... We need to move into the future in our operations.”

Get Political

Josh Cook of Porter Square Books in Cambridge, Mass., made a forceful declaration for booksellers to be more politically engaged and took aim specifically at former White House communications director Sean Spicer, who is slated to appear on the Downtown Stage on this morning.

“There are people, groups, and individuals who do not care about free expression and the free and open exchange of ideas that make up the discourse in this country,” he said. Calling on booksellers to be “stewards of that discourse,” Cook assailed BookExpo for hosting Spicer. “BookExpo has given their platform to someone who, in an official capacity, and on our payroll, told lies about obvious, objectively verifiable facts.”

Cook asked booksellers to speak with him after the Town Hall if they wished to join him to “take action” on Spicer’s event. On Facebook, he asked that they RSVP to the event and then commit to doing something else instead, whether calling a representative or attending another workshop. “The best response to this embarrassment is an empty audience,” he said.

Beware Gentrification

Veronica Santiago Liu, founder and general coordinator of Word Up Community Bookshop in New York City, challenged her fellow booksellers to take seriously the idea that bookstores are part of gentrification in sometimes negative ways in the communities where they open.

“Hard as it may seem to many of us in this particular room, but the opening of a bookstore can be perceived as an act of aggression in a neighborhood, especially one that is at any state of gentrification, no matter who is opening it,” said Liu, “because the store now exists where something else no longer does or can.”

Limited Progress on Diversity

Former ABA board member John Bennett of Fieldstone Books challenged diversity issues on the board. “I originally resigned in 2003 to get more diversity on the board,” he said. While he praised the organization for increased gender diversity, he called for more diversity in terms of people of color. Presently, board member Angela Maria Spring is the only person of color on the board. “Over 15 years later it seems like limited progress,” Bennett said.

“Your observation that it is going slower than we would like is correct,” said ABA board president Robert Sindelar, while also noting that the group has been actively recruiting in recent years. To that end, Annie Philbrick, owner of Savoy and Bank Square Bookstores, will head the ABA’s board nominating committee and called on members to nominate people of color. “Help us out to really try to take care of this,” said Philbrick.

Too PC?

Lucy Cogler of Talking Leaves Books in Buffalo, N.Y., took issue with the organization’s recently issued code of conduct. “We now have a new code of conduct and it seems to have been generated pretty quickly and it has things in it like obscene jokes,” Cogler said. “I have someone who I flirt with at these events, we have our parameters. If someone overheard our conversation, they would think it was outrageous... when in fact it wouldn’t be the case. We need to keep [the code] more ethical and less politically correct.”

Sindelar replied, agreeing that the code was created “quickly with the knowledge that it was imperfect,” but he said it was essential to have something published. “There’s not unanimity amongst this group, but there’s unanimity in the importance of putting something out.”

Indies’ Impact on Pre-Sales

In his own remarks, Sindelar addressed the past year’s challenges for independent booksellers in receiving early copies of major titles, from Fire and Fury to A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo. Sindelar said that booksellers must develop ways to convince publishers to work with them to generate advance publicity for important titles. “We need to look at what we’re doing and not doing,” said Sindelar. “Publishers are skeptical about indies’ ability to capture pre-sales. And both publishers and indies have let this business go elsewhere,” he added, pointing to Amazon though not by name. He advocated greater effort at capturing and disseminating pre-sale data, and working with publishers on signed book releases and other promotional work.