The high energy that has marked the tenth anniversary Winter Institute in Asheville, N.C., carried over into Tuesday’s Town Hall Forum and a session with past ABA presidents. Many booksellers used these events to address challenges ahead. Bradley Graham, owner of Politics and Prose in Washington, D.C., led off by saying that he’s in “the panic phase” over minimum wage.
The problem, booksellers explained, is that in many parts of the country steep jumps in the minimum wage have put a strain on booksellers’ slim margins. The mandatory minimum wage increase has already led one SF indie, Borderlands Books, to announce its closing. Other attendees pointed to the new law and said it offered an opportunity. “I may be the lone voice here,” said Emoke B’Racz, owner of Malaprop’s Bookstore/Cafe in Asheville, but “I’d be totally ashamed of exploiting my staff. Go home and be creative.”
“One little epiphany I had,” responded ABA president Steve Bercu, owner of BookPeople, “is to reduce collecting sales tax on bookstores. We don’t get to keep the money, but it would have a positive impact on our businesses.” His other suggestion was to move to net pricing, and remove the pre-printed prices from books. “We’re in a very special industry, because we can’t change the prices of our products. There’s no place for [extra income] to come, but our margin,” he explained.
Lucy Kogler, manager of Buffalo's Talking Leaves...Books, asked whether ABA could produce a product, or take some other action, to help support bookstores financially. The board noted that in France publishers put money into a bookstore fund, and that this model could be replicated here.
In response to a question from Tegan Tigani, children’s book buyer at Queen Anne Book Co. in Seattle, about the board’s vision for the next few years, Bercu responded that ABA has been working with publishers to follow Random House’s lead on rapid replenishment. ABA has also addressed co-op to reduce paperwork on both sides, and to enable booksellers to get it more readily. The board is also looking at the pricing model and is going back to a state-by-state strategy to achieve sales tax fairness.
One perennial challenge that was raised by Alison Reid, co-owner of the Bay Area mini chain Diesel, A Bookstore, is the lack of racial diversity in bookselling. One suggestion from Janet Geddis, owner of Avid Bookshop in Athens, Ga., was to use the emerging leader scholarship program to encourage a more diverse group of young people to become booksellers. “It’s on us to make a diverse community,” said Jay Steele, owner of Left Bank Books in St. Louis, adding, “I’m a trans person.”
Anne Holman, long-time manager and new co-owner of the King’s English in Salt Lake City, suggested taking stores to areas with areas with diverse populations. In this thinking, she said, her store is considering a pop-up on the West Side of Salt Lake City.
Another much-discussed concern at the conference, which was raised by past ABA president Gayle Shanks, owner of Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe and Phoenix, Ariz., is publisher partnerships. For her, a true publisher partnership would mean houses could no longer sell books to her customers, and that they would need to keep authors touring.
No matter what the challenge, it's important to keep things in perspective, noted former ABA president Michael Tucker, owner of Books Inc. "I love this trade," Tucker said. "I wouldn¹t do anything else. It¹s always going to be in crisis."