As American Booksellers Association president Robert Sindelar of Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park, Wash., noted at the opening of the Town Hall Meeting at Winter Institute 13, last year’s gathering “erupted” over diversity. “We took that very seriously,” he said.
The effects of that meeting, including the immediate creation of a Diversity Task Force, were evident in institute programming on handselling diverse books and hiring for diversity and inclusion. The discussion's impact was also seen in the talk given by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Junot Díaz (Islandborn, March), who spoke at the show about why we need a more diverse literary landscape.
The task force opened the Town Hall meeting saying that some progress has been made. But, as Hannah Oliver Depp of Word in Brooklyn, N.Y., and Jersey City, N.J., asserted, “we have a lot further to go.”
“We need you. We have to do this together,” said Angela Maria Spring of Duende District in Washington, D.C. She encouraged booksellers to take part in diversity training that ABA has begun offering, and to join the diversity task force’s resource sharing platform on Facebook.
In addition to diversity, one of the biggest concerns voiced at the meeting, and one which formed the subtext for a number of bookseller conversations throughout the convention, is the long-term viability of the current indie bookselling model.
“I’m nervous about the sustainability of independents,” said Alison Reid, co-owner of Diesel Books (which has two locations in California).
Among the problems she voiced are the fact that most owners have to work long hours. Many are forced to take or keep other jobs. Paying employees a wage of $15/per hour is hard, particularly at a time when publisher deals with larger accounts devalue the book. “I know publishers that make good profits,” said Reid. “It would be nice if they could give us extra percentage.”
Chris Morrow at Northshire Bookstore in Manchester Center, Vt., said that he and other board members have gone over the ABACUS numbers (ABA’s annual financial survey of member stores) with publishers. “Despite [indie booksellers’] modest growth over the past five years, we all know that wages and rents are going up. There’s an imbalance when publishers are making 10% and we’re making 2%.”
Board member Christine Onorati of Word encouraged other booksellers to follow her lead and use every opportunity to discuss finances with publishers. “I’m obsessed,” she said. “We have to educate publishers.”
For Kira Wizner, owner of the Merritt Bookstore in Millbrook, N.Y., finding a way for indies to get a larger share of the pre-order market was a major concern. “It’s something that troubles [our publishing partners] and they would like to see it fixed,” said Sindelar, who called changing consumer behavior “a big hill.”
Pricing was foremost for Doug Robinson of Eagle Eye Bookshop in Decatur, Ga. “I’m concerned about the looming problem of hardback novels hitting $30 and over, and children’s storybooks going over $20,” he said.
Noting the biggest difference between British booksellers and those in the U.S., former California bookseller Antonia Squire of Bridport Bookshop in Dorset, said: “We don’t have Edelweiss, and we do have Batch [a consolidated invoicing system].” She encouraged ABA to bring Batch to the U.S., where it could have a significant impact on money and time. Sindelar responded that ABA is working on it and some U.S. publishers have already begun testing it.
Other booksellers like Amy Kesler of Ada’s Technical Books and Café in Seattle, who has mental illness, sought support and resources around disability from ABA. “This is an amazing career,” she said. “And I want to keep doing it.”
For others, just getting to the show is a struggle. Noting what a wonderful experience Winter Institute was for him, scholarship recipient Emmanuel Abreu of Word Up Community Bookshop in New York City lamented that it is one he will likely not be able to repeat. Neither he nor the store have the financial resources to pay for him to attend future conferences. “Make it easier for people like me to come back,” he implored.