The New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association’s (NAIBA) conference was marked by high energy and intense collaboration between indie booksellers, authors, and industry professionals during the annual gathering, which was held in Baltimore from October 6-8.
With a theme of “solutions,” the conference presented the 175 attendees with an entirely new format. Instead of having concurrent panel discussions, booksellers were presented with a single track of sessions that began with an educational panel by the American Booksellers Association followed by editor pick sessions and then a half day of exhibitor hours.
The newest addition to the programming came on the final day, with 51 round table sessions divided into four 30 minute discussions on issues ranging from Social Media to In-School Book Fairs.
Carrie Deming, co-owner of The Dog Eared Book in Palmyra, N.Y. said, “I’ve been waiting all weekend for the round table sessions,” and came away delighted. “I just love it,” Deming said. “You end up learning things you didn’t even realize you didn’t know.”
In a round table on developing romance sections, Deming asked how to reach out to local writer groups, and how to order romance books direct from publishers in order to develop a romance section. Facilitator and HarperCollins senior director of publicity and brand development Pam Jaffee was able to offer immediate advice and support, in part because sales representative Kim Gombar also joined in on the session to help Deming with her account. “I’d come back every year that they’d have me,” said Jaffee after the round table.
NAIBA executive director Eileen Dengler devised the new format after attending a panel at last year’s American Booksellers Association Winter Institute. “I had questions, and I needed to share,” Dengler said, but like many in the audience, there wasn’t an opportunity to do so. The experience led Dengler to propose a program she felt would leverage existing camaraderie and expertise within the membership of the organization and give booksellers a chance to both deepen and forge new relationships.
Earlier in the conference, the ABA continued its series of educational presentations intended to get booksellers to increase sales volumes by taking pre-orders. After a lively, highly technical conversation about best practices, five bookstores signed up for the ABA’s web sales platform, according to ABA IndieCommerce senior manager Geetha Nathan.
Sales reps also appeared pleased by the level of engagement with booksellers, especially with floor-sales booksellers, during exhibitor hall hours on Sunday afternoon. “[At conferences] people say, it’s about talking with the buyer,” said Karen Corvello, sales rep for MIT, Princeton, and Yale, “but it’s the bookseller. It’s about meeting the people who do the handselling.”
Kate Brown, assistant sales manager at Quirk, added that the setting allowed her to, “offer booksellers an opportunity to not have to call a rep or send an e-mail because I’m right here.”
In rousing speeches that received standing ovations, authors Jewell Parker Rhodes and Laurie Halse Anderson hailed the role of booksellers in American society. Receiving the organization’s Legacy Award, Anderson praised the business acumen of booksellers and called on them to, “Find the groups in your community who have not yet felt welcome in your store and find ways to invite them in.”
Receiving both the Carla Cohen Free Speech Award and the Book of the Year Award, Rhodes spoke passionately about the emotional toll she experienced writing Ghost Boys, and shared her own experience of having become a bookseller at 15 when she had to support herself entirely on her own.
NAIBA’s incoming vice president, P.K. Sindwani, owner of Towne Book Center, said that the organization’s strong membership and increasingly productive relationship with publishers could even be found on NAIBA’s balance sheet. Cash reserves for the organization were up 33% in the last year, to $606, 811. Sindwani cited Dengler’s stewardship of the organization, publisher advertising, sponsorships, and the success of the organization’s holiday catalog as drivers of the spike in revenue.
Receiving the Lifetime Bookseller Achievement Award, Jean Aiello, who retired this year after 48 years at the Pitt Book Center reflected on the importance of the relationship between publishers and booksellers as the most important way forward for indie booksellers. “Sales reps are a booksellers’ lifeline,” Aiello said, “and NAIBA is our voice.”