The American Booksellers Association Town Hall meeting at Winter Institute 15 was surprisingly uneventful. Top of the agenda was welcoming Allison Hill as the new CEO; Hill starts March 1. Then Jamie Fiocco, the owner of Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, N.C . and president of the ABA board opened the session by addressing several of the perennial big issues under discussion at nearly every ABA Town Hall in recent memory, as well as some new concerns. These included:
Health insurance for booksellers: “We all in this room would love to have a magic solution to health insurance whether you work for a company or own a company…Giving you more information about what is available is the first step we are looking to take,” said Fiocco.
Publisher relationships: ““Margins on books are not a viable business model. We know that. We have a team that knows that the model is broken,” said Fiocco. “We cannot pay ourselves what we are worth or what we need to live. The publishers and distributors know this as well. We are not the enemy. But the situation is practically untenable. It is a big issue and first on our plate and we are going to have a lot of discussions on it.”
Nancy Bass Wyden, owner of The Strand Bookstore in New York City, reiterated a point that comes up time and time again at Town Halls: the idea of eliminating prices on books and letting booksellers set their own prices. "The number one problem here is book margins," she said. "I am suggesting that we all band together and tell the publishers we no longer want them to dictate the retail price."
Len Vlahos, owner of the Tattered Cover, asked the board to amend the board’s Ends Policies to reflect the need to find a sustainable business model.
BATCH Invoicing: “It is coming along even slower than we originally wanted. We want to apologize for it coming slowly,” admitted Fiocco.
ABACUS surveys: “Please sign up for ABACUS and fill in your data. People will help you do it over the phone,” Fiocco implored.
Diversity, equity and inclusion: “The Board voted to make this an official committee…Everything is a work in progress, but I hope everyone takes time to see how hard the staff works and how deeply they care about these issues” said Angela Maria Spring owner of Duende District Bookstore, who is the board liaison to the committee.
Skepticism to the new ABA-affiliated online bookstore, Bookshop: “If we cannot do it ourselves, we try to work with people who can do it better. Let me say this, Bookshop is a platform the ABA is going forward with and it is going to replace IndieBound. We don’t have the capacity to make [IndieBound] the frictionless online buying experience people want. Bookshop is not designed to compete with our existing websites,” said Fiocco.
Limited tickets to Winter Institute: “We should consider expanding the conference. . .we should have to beat the buzzer to get into this conference. I have a solution: we need data, so let’s give people who are doing ABACUS first shot” to register, said Lia Lent of WordsWorth Books & Co. in Little Rock, Ark.
Environmental concerns: “I really would love to see metal and plastic things that come to us as swag from publishers to stop. It’s not biodegradable. It’s not environmentally friendly,” said Cheryl Cotleur, buyer at Copperfield’s Books Inc. in Sebastopol, Calif.