“I came [to Winter Institute] looking for broader issues, being in the Bay Area,” said Casey Coonerty Protti, owner of Book Shop Santa Cruz in Santa Cruz, Calif., whose region is facing some of the steepest minimum wage increases in the country, coupled with rent hikes. “I’m glad we’re being so forward-looking.”
At no event were booksellers more vocal about the big picture than the ABA Town Hall Meeting, led by ABA president Betsy Burton, owner of The King’s English in Salt Lake City, and v-p Robert Sindelar, managing partner of Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park, Wash.
Minimum wage concerns did come up at the meeting as did selling used books to increase margin. Quoting Paul Epstein of Twist and Shout Records in Denver, who spoke at the Building Resilient Communities Session, board member Annie Philbrick, owner of Bank Square Books in Mystic, Ct., said, “If you’re not selling used books, you should be selling used books.”
Diversity was another topic discussed by booksellers. “I want to see if the board would have an ongoing discussion about race and class,” Paul Yamazaki, head book buyer at City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco, said. To come up with results-oriented practices, he suggested partnering with the American Association of University Presses and the Association of American Publishers and approaching the Ford Foundation for a grant.
Amazon, too, was on many booksellers’ minds, especially given the forum’s timing, following the release of the "Amazon and Empty Storefronts" survey. “We heard some disturbing data this morning,” Kevin Gillies, owner of City Stacks Books & Coffee in Denver, said. Alison Reid, co-owner of Diesel, a bookstore, with three stores in California, followed up on the letter-writing campaign suggested at Sunday’s session on Authors United and the Authors Guild. She asked the board to create petitions that booksellers can put in their stores to encourage the DoJ to investigate Amazon.
“Part of the reason for Amazon’s dominance is that there are certain cities that don’t have bookstores at all,” said Michael Herrmann, owner of Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord, N.H. He questioned whether ABA could help finance prospective booksellers. “There’s a resurgence in independent bookstores, but it isn’t keeping pace with the need around the country,” board member John Evans, co-owner of Diesel, acknowledged, adding that it would be problematic for ABA to set up a bank.
Amazon’s search engine in particula drew the attention from Jesica Sweedler DeHart, co-manager of children’s books and gift buyer at BookPeople of Moscow in Moscow, Idaho, who questioned why the ABA can’t have one as good. “Amazon is where I go to and where customers go to get information. If nothing else add [children’s book] series,” she said. “It would at least have us as booksellers going to IndieBound.”
Amazon isn’t the only company that should be investigated, according to George Kiskaddon, a partner at Builders Booksource in Berkeley, Calif., who attacked the credit card industry for anti-trust practices. “The Europeans don’t put up with it,” he said. “Their swipe fees are lower.”
Christin Evans of Booksmith in San Francisco and Kepler’s in Menlo Park, asked about the status of the ABA pilot program to sell books on IndieBound.org. V-p Sindelar noted that the six month test/fact-finding mission is only half over and was begun because of the “unacceptable” conversion rate for browsers to book buyers, .01%. “I can tell you there was a change,” but he declined to say more until the pilot is complete.
And a perennial bookstore problem also arose. Neal Sofman, owner of Bookshop West Portal in San Francisco, requested that the board add damaged books to the docket for its Publishers Relations Committee.