Addressing the American Booksellers Association’s annual Town Hall and membership meeting on Thursday, ABA CEO Oren Teicher underscored the ABA’s continued growth. “In 2018, ABA saw 99 new indie bookstore members open for business in 37 states, and the District of Columbia, which was a 32 percent increase over 2017. In addition, a number of member stores opened new branches, and 28 established ABA member stores were purchased by new owners.” The changes bring ABA membership up to 2,524 locations, representing 1,887 companies.
Teicher went on to note that indie booksellers are realizing higher net profits, according to the organization’s latest ABACUS membership survey. This was spurred, in part, by higher sales. “Based on the data we get every week from NPD/Bookscan, sales for 2018 among ABA member stores increased nearly five percent over 2017, and the compound annual growth rate in the indie bookstore channel over the past five years is a very healthy 7.5 percent,” he said. That said, he noted that bookstore sales as compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau were down 8.4% for the first quarter of the year.
During the Town Hall’s open Q&A, booksellers raised questions about various challenges facing the industry, including minimum wage hikes across the country. Outgoing ABA president Robert Sindelar of Seattle’s Third Place Books said that the increase in profits at bookstores was actually “being eaten away by payroll.” The solution, he said, was communicating the realities of being a bookseller with publishers, who are invested in the survival of the ecosystem, to work with bookstores to make them more profitable.
One solution, which is consistently floated, is for publishers to take prices off books and allow booksellers to set their own prices. Pete Mulvihill of Green Apple Books took a straw poll of the audience of those in favor and against eliminating printed prices—which heavily favored keeping prices—and then joked that the answer was “getting ten more points from publishers.”
A question was raised from the audience about healthcare options being negotiated through ABA, to which Teicher said, “we assure you we are doing all we can to work with other book associations to negotiate health coverage in a cost effective way.” He added, “we’re optimistic, but honest” and suggested there was still a way to go.
The ongoing question of when BATCH, a centralized invoicing system, would be introduced was not answered directly, other than representatives saying that a demo was available and a promise was made that booksellers will be able to “ease into” using the system.
Matt Norcross, co-owner of McLean and Eakin Booksellers in Petosky, Mich., protested against the increase in direct-to-consumer marketing by publishers. “When I complain to them about it, they tell me I am the only one,” he said. After asking for a show of hands as to how many others don’t like it, nearly every bookseller registered their discontent with the practice, which extends to publishers direct event marketing programs and direct-to-business sales.
Finally, Teicher said that the ABA was working on an industry statement addressing new tariffs on Chinese imports, which will say that any resulting on the increase in the cost of books is not good for the business of bookselling.