New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association members gathered in Baltimore on April 25 for two educational presentations and a spring town hall forum with leaders from the American Booksellers Association. Forty booksellers engaged in discussions about bookseller education, health care, and finances for independent bookstores across the region.

ABA leaders conducted presentations exploring the results of the ABACUS bookstore financial survey, as well as ways that bookstores can boost pre-orders from readers. ABA leadership also shared recent efforts to provide distance learning opportunities including free video of nearly every session from this year’s Winter Institute.

In the town hall forum facilitated by ABA CEO Oren Teicher, booksellers returned to education as a topic of importance. Anna Thorn of Busboys and Poets asked if there had ever been an ABA-sponsored apprenticeship program for prospective booksellers. “I’ve had lots of conversations with bookstore owners of various types of stores who expressed interest in some kind of [apprenticeship] program that is subsidized,” said Thorn.

While Teicher said the organization has not offered apprenticeships in recent memory, the ABA board had discussed the idea, ultimately deciding against a formal program through the organization due to legal liability issues. Teicher encouraged further conversation on creative educational programming, telling booksellers that, “ABA has always believed that whatever we can do to professionalize this trade pays dividends on every scale.”

In particular, Teicher said that the ability for booksellers to attend educational conferences is cost-prohibitive for many in smaller or struggling stores. Along with creating the new digital platform for viewing workshops, the ABA is offering scholarships for its Winter Institute, specifically targeting those booksellers who have not been to the event in seven years or more.

The issue of bookstore finances continued in discussions about the annual ABACUS survey, which tracks bookstore financial data. Participating bookstores receive detailed financial analyses of their stores within the industry in return for submitting their annual profit and loss statements. ABA senior strategy officer Dan Cullen said that participation in the survey was up 20% this year to 295 stores, and he encouraged booksellers to continue to enroll, even if some of their data is incomplete. He would like participation to get to 450 to 500 stores annually.

Hannah Oliver Depp, owner of Upshur Street Books, asked for updates on the ABA’s efforts to provide health insurance options for members. Teicher told attendees that the organization is too small to create the potential 25,000 member pool that would be needed to create a health care option, but he has been exploring partnerships with fellow organizations like the Authors Guild.

In the coming months, Teicher said he hopes to be able to provide an answer for booksellers but cautioned that even if a health care option could be provided, it might not be worth it. “This effort that we’re engaged in is going to come back with a program. What I can’t tell you is whether it’s going to be affordable and whether it will make sense for indie booksellers to be able to pay for it,” said Teicher. “The cost of insurance keeps going up and the ability to provide affordable health insurance for employees is a challenge.”

NAIBA will reconvene in October in Cherry Hill, New Jersey for its annual conference.