Executive directors of regional independent booksellers associations are marshaling their resources to help members, many of whom are closed and are facing an uncertain future. Most regionals are maintaining web pages answers to frequently answered questions concerning the coronavirus and are holding regular conference calls and video chats with members, offering special promotions and are working to anticipate the future needs of members.
The Southern Independent Bookstore Alliance is launching Reader Meet Writer, a virtual reading series. Publishers and authors pay $299 to be featured in a 40-minute Zoom event with up to 1,000 readers that will be promoted through SIBA's more than 600 members. The first author to be featured will be Taylor Brown on March 31 with several more authors, including Lee Smith, Grady Hendrix, Caroline Cooney, and Carter Sickels, scheduled for the future. The organization is also offering free SIBA membership to any bookstore in the south, and will be slashing ad rates in half for its regional promotions. Wanda Jewell, the outgoing SIBA executive director, remarked, "I never dreamed my last days would be consumed with a pandemic. Now's the time to see if my decades of experience doing this is really worth a damn.
Heather Duncan, executive director of the Mountains and Plains Independent Booksellers Association, is also foregoing charging dues this year and is looking at more ways to return money back to bookstores. "We gave Binc (The Book Industry Charitable Foundation) a $5,000 donation and are looking at ways of giving more," said Drucker, who was meeting with the association's lawyer on Thursday to consider options. One plan is to pay for a premium Zoom account and allow members to use it for virtual events and routine meetings with fellow members. "It just lets us connect," said Drucker, "people are feeling alone in their stores or at home and being able to talk to colleagues at home is very helpful."
The New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association also donated to Binc, giving $25,000, in part prompted by the news that authors Garth Stein, Tui Sutherland, and Amor Towles are offering matching grants up to $41,000 "The NAIBA board views the Association's funds as belonging to our bookstores and if it is needed in a time like this to help, then it must go to Binc," said executive director Eileen Dengler. "We are here to be a resource and a comfort to all our booksellers."
NAIBA is hosting a zoom call today, Friday, March 27 to get a feel for booksellers state of mind and business. "We have a dynamic survey so we can keep track of trends," said Dengler, who was surprised that the majority of her association's booksellers have not yet had the chance to reach out to their publishing reps yet. "I, and many of the board and our members have been attending the ABA zoom meetings, to share support and listen to how others are coping. We are keeping our members posted on developments from all sources, the best being ABA, which has been phenomenal. "Along with the donation to Binc, NAIBA's board voted to offer a full free ticket package to each of member store for their fall regional show. Dengler said other relief packages related to the conference and the regional holiday catalog program are under consideration and will be announced later this spring.
At Great Lakes Independent Booksellers Association, executive director Larry Law is guiding the organization through this challenging period, even as he is battling Covid-19. "GLIBA has been updating our website daily and sharing with booksellers resources and updates regarding the virus," Law said. "As well, we have adapted our programming to the current situation. We are holding Zoom video chats for booksellers and instead of cancelling Spring Forum we are hosting it online. We have adapted some of the forum programming to reflect the current state of the region and country. As well, we are working on some upcoming events with authors that you will be able to see soon on our social media." The association's virtual spring forum will April 16, with half a dozen authors presenting and a virtual bookstore tour of Bookbug in Kalamazoo. Finally, the GLIBA bookstore owners retreat planned for April 26-28 is postponed until 2021.
Carrie Obry, executive director of the the Midwest Independent Booksellers Association, said MIBA is providing bookseller resources information and tips on its website and keeping members updated as necessary, since more and more states are mandating restrictions on movement. "We're keeping it up to date, we need to be educated" on the mandates issues by the different states. As regards specific promotions, graphic artist Kevin Cannon, who had previously created the bookstore roadmaps for MIBA bookstores to distribute to their customers on Independent Bookstore Day, is donating his time to create individual graphics for stores to promote themselves on their websites and on social media as online bookstore destinations (see the graphic at the top of this post). "We are using this temporary promotion to encourage online shopping during this quarantine. It's fun because it's art," said Obry.
On April 1, MIBA is launching a contest related to its MIBA roadmap that originally it was going to do in conjunction with Independent Bookstore Day, but it now will be an online contest. There will be prizes of gift cards that can be used at MIBA member bookstores to encourage online shopping for books at indies. The organization has deferred making a decision on whether or not to postpone yet again the spring forum that was postponed from April 4-5 and is now set for June 1-2. "We're hoping for the best," said Obry. "We're still operating on the expectation that it will happen."
Looking further into the future, nearly all the regional executive directors also said that if BookExpo is canceled, they will begin looking at ways to enhance, expand, or improve their fall regional shows, though many are locked into existing contracts, so adding addition time or space may not be feasible at this point.
"With the way things are shaping up, those fall shows will be all the more critical," said Drucker. Obry concurred, "A lot of people have the expectation that by the fourth quarter, we will be back on track. If it comes back in time for the regional shows, that would be fantastic and so would be the holiday season."
UPDATE: On Tuesday, March 31, GLIBA announced that it is waiving membership fees.