The New England Independent Booksellers Association’s (NEIBA) spring All About the Books gathering drew a capacity crowd of 150 booksellers to Harvard Square in Cambridge, Mass., on April 4. Amidst a daylong series of author readings, educational sessions, and a town hall, the Massachusetts Center for the Book presented the independent bookselling organization with a Library of Congress State Literacy Award.
“One of the civic cornerstones of a literate society is the independent bookstore and the booksellers who inhabit it and who serve their community,” said Sharon Shaloo, executive director of the Massachusetts Center for the Book. “We couldn’t think of a better way to make an award to that enterprise and to that effort than to give a state literacy award to the New England Independent Booksellers Association.”
NEIBA executive director Beth Ineson accepted the award alongside her predecessor, Steve Fischer, who retired in 2018. “It’s his hard work that got us to the point where we would be receiving this award,” Ineson said. The award comes with $1,000, which Ineson said will be put toward scholarships for booksellers who would like to attend NEIBA events.
Two educational sessions were presented by leadership from the American Booksellers Association as part of their programming for all of the regional independent bookseller gatherings this year. In the opening session ABA CEO Oren Teicher reviewed bookstore finances by sharing results from the organization’s ABACUS financial survey. Teicher pointed to positive signs for indies, including a 2% decrease in the cost of goods for independents over the last few years due largely to more publisher-direct ordering. Teicher said “there is room for that number to continue to be reduced,” but he emphasized that a 2% reduction is “pretty huge when you look at the bottom line.”
The ABA’s yearlong push for independents to take pre-orders continued in the second session of the day, with senior program officer Joy Dallanegra-Sanger sharing recent tips from bookstores that have been engaging in the pre-order program. The organization has targeted the 3-30% of individual title sales that are made prior to a book’s release as a source of growth for its bookstores. Dallanegra-Sanger shared that the ABA and participating stores had been relieved in recent months to discover that the process of taking pre-orders “doesn’t have to be as laborious as we thought.”
During the educational sessions and a subsequent town hall, Teicher fielded questions and shared updates, including successes in recording conference sessions for booksellers who cannot travel to Winter Institute or other ABA-sponsored events. Teicher also updated booksellers on the rollout of Batch, a uniform invoicing system used by publishers and booksellers in the U.K. Penguin Random House, Macmillan, and HarperCollins have all signed on to participate in the program, which Teicher expects to debut in the third quarter of 2019.
Efforts to increase publisher participation in the program had been slowed by unforeseen banking regulations that did not exist in the U.K., according to Teicher. Asking for booksellers’ patience with the growth of the system, he stressed that while it may take a few years to be fully operational, “ultimately, the efficiency of Batch will come when we have hundreds of vendors on board.”
Booksellers also urged the organization to consider an overhaul of its online website and e-commerce platform IndieBound. “In addition to updating the website,” the Briar Patch owner Gibran Graham called for “updating the message of IndieBound.” Brookline Booksmith assistant manager Nick Petrulakis also encouraged the ABA to consider creating a rival customer book review platform to GoodReads, which is owned by Amazon.
Booksellers began and ended the day with recognition for two outgoing leaders. Teicher recently announced his planned retirement for later this year, and NEIBA’s longtime administrative coordinator, Nan Sorensen, will also retire later this year.