Despite Mother Nature’s best efforts, most booksellers and speakers were able to get to the 11th annual American Booksellers Association Winter Institute. The numbers for the show--being held in Denver, Colo., from January 23 to 26--bear that out, with attendance up 20% from the 500 booksellers at which the conference was capped in previous years.
The opening night reception at the Tattered Cover Book Store on Colfax Avenue, hosted by owner Joyce Meskis and incoming owners and former ABA staffers Len Vlahos and Kristen Gilligan, helped set the upbeat tone. ABA CEO Oren Teicher recognized Meskis for creating the model for modern independent bookstores. As he put it: "To say she’s been an inspirational leader hardly does it justice.”
Booksellers’ high spirits were enhanced by what ABA president Betsy Burton, owner of The King’s English in Salt Lake City, called “an absolutely record-breaking year for many stores.” A newly darkened Barnes & Noble less than a block away served as a distinct counterpoint to the indie gathering.
Among those in attendance is author Richard Russo who, with his wife Barbara and daughter Emily, plans to open a bookstore in Portland, Maine. Other new booksellers at the event include Mary Rory-Watson, who will open Plot Twist Bookstore in Ankeny, Iowa; Lexi Beach of Astoria Bookshop in New York City; and Holland Saltsman, of the Novel Neighbor in Webster Groves, Mo.
A slate of new programming highlighted this year's convention. The inaugural Backlist Book Swap party was meant to encourage booksellers to build and develop backlist. The first full day opened with a keynote address by Martin Lindstrom, author of Small Data: The Tiny Clues That Uncover Huge Trends (St. Martin’s, Feb.).
Prior to the conference Lindstrom visited Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston; Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, N.C.; Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, N.C; and Greenlight Books in Brooklyn, N.Y. At the conference, he showed video clips of these booksellers who described what they do to make a difference in their stores, such as being prepared for Saturday morning customers who want gift-wrapped books for birthday parties.
“I love you guys from the bottom of my heart,” Lindstrom said. “You are the foundation of society.” He encouraged booksellers to consider what they do as ’transition,’ meaning that they "help people transition from their busy lives." His message resonated with booksellers like Andrea Avantaggio of Maria’s Bookshop in Durango, Colo. “It made me think of my own store,” she said. “People come in, stop, sigh and say, ‘a real bookstore.’ This makes me want to go back and do it even better.”
Sessions ranged from one on Education for Publishers, in which booksellers walked publishers through a profit-and-loss statement, so that they could understand the challenges booksellers are up against. The show also featured a reprise of a popular session hosted in the fall, called The Economics of Publishing, aimed at helping booksellers better understand publishing P&Ls.