At the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association’s first-ever virtual annual membership meeting on Thursday morning, American Booksellers Association CEO Allison Hill announced ABA’s latest marketing initiatives supporting indies to 60 bookseller attendees—initiatives that will roll out during a holiday season already roiled by a pandemic amplified by possible disruptions to the supply chain.
First, there's the “October is the New December” marketing campaign, which encourages consumers to start their holiday shopping early to avoid disappointment if stores can’t keep certain bestsellers in stock throughout the holiday season.
“With the supply chain disrupted, we want to make sure everyone gets their presents before the holidays,” Hill said. “The earlier they shop, the better of a position you’re in to help them with that. We want to spread the demand, spread the fulfillment, make it even longer, stretch it a little bit, so that the impact isn’t those final days of December. Because that’s when we know things will start to break down.” The ABA has assets available for bookstores. “Every format you could possibly ever need,” Hill said, including materials that don’t contain bookstore-specific language and that can be shared with retail partners, will be made available. “We can get a movement going to remind people that we need them to shop early this year.”
The ABA is also launching another “bigger” marketing campaign, spotlighting indie bookstores, on October 12. The campaign will be spearheaded by a New York City advertising agency known for its expertise in promoting small businesses with national campaigns, Hill said. “This will be another layer to spread the word about indies going into the fourth quarter, and hopefully opening up the conversation with the media at a really critical time to get some attention,” Hill said
After Hill concluded her presentation, Bill Reilly, co-owner of the River’s End Bookstore in Oswego, N.Y., took over the meeting, declaring: “Who knew? Last fall, it was business as usual. Then 2020 arrives. Here we are, seven months later, working together to find what we hope will be the best way forward.”
In an allusion to the current American political climate, Reilly described his final meeting as board president as a "peaceful transfer of power," after the board’s newest leaders were introduced. Those include Rebecca Fitting, co-owner of Greenlight Bookstore in Brooklyn, the incoming board president, and Hannah Oliver Depp, its new v-p., who owns Loyalty Bookstores in Washington, D.C. and its metro area. NAIBA’s three new board members include Dan Iddings of Classic Lines in Pittsburgh; Veronica Liu of Word Up Community Bookshop in Washington Heights, New York City; and Noëlle Santos of the Lit Bar in the Bronx.
A Year of Challenges and Initiatives
In response to the pandemic, Reilly said NAIBA donated funds to the Bookstore Industry Charitable (Binc) Foundation for booksellers in need: $25,000 to help with individual bookseller needs, as well as a separate donation to Binc’s Save the Bookstores program. (NAIBA launched a matching campaign for Save the Bookstores that raised $50,000, $25,000 of which was provided by the organization.) And, Reilly pointed out, NAIBA memberships have been extended for one year gratis to all current members.
Reilly also brought up the National Booksellers Certification program, which NAIBA introduced which will officially launch this January. It consists of six educational modules: event management, inventory management, store operations, staff and human resources, basic bookselling, and career fast track.
The program unofficially kicked off during this week's New Voices New Rooms show with a Wednesday educational session on hosting successful virtual events that drew 98 booksellers. During the session, a group of veteran indie booksellers who have hosted virtual events on various online platforms with varying degrees of success presented case studies that explored both the pros and cons of different kinds of events. These ranged from book clubs and other authorless happenings to the Monday night local author events organized by Blue Marble Bookstore in Philadelphia. They also included events drawing national, and even international, attention, such as the pre-order campaigns organized in partnership with authors and publishers by River Dog Book Co., a mobile bookstore headquartered in southern Wisconsin.
The session's case studies revealed that the organizing of virtual events allows for infinite possibility, but if there was a general consensus among the session's instructors, it was this: while virtual events can do much to raise a store’s visibility and to build community, online audiences do not always become customers. As River Dog Book Co. owner Broche Aroe Fabian noted, “virtual events, for me, are not where the money is.”
Fitting disclosed that a recent virtual event at Greenlight Bookstore with Yaa Gyasi, the author of Transcendent Kingdom, which drew 250 attendees, netted a tidy profit when the store implemented a three-tiered admission fee: $5 for access-only, $35 for access with a copy of the book for pick-up, and $45 for access and the book plus with shipping.
NAIBA Moves Forward
Reilly called the New Voices New Rooms virtual trade show a great success, describing the collaboration with SIBA as “brilliant.” The conference boasted 85 individual events during its five-day run, as well as a total of 243 presenters and 856 attendees, the bulk of whom are booksellers. Reilly noted that there was a 35% increase in NAIBA bookseller attendance at this year’s show over last year’s conference in Cherry Hill, N.J., and that this year's 95 exhibitors represented an increase of more than 100% over last year.
Following Reilly, Depp, the board’s secretary-treasurer, said that even after pouring funds into Covid-19 relief and investing in future projects, that NAIBA remains financially secure, with a total of $666,000 in assets. She also said that the organization is extending current memberships by one year at no charge to provide some financial relief to booksellers.
“It’s always great to have a strong regional association at your back,” Reilly noted in response. “But it’s never been more important than the times we’ve been enduring the last six or seven months.”
NAIBA’s annual meeting concluded with a presentation by executive director Eileen Dengler, who is also a Binc board member, on Binc’s response to booksellers in need this past year. Efforts at Binc included work with the book and comics communities to raise $2.7 million in eight weeks that benefited 1,625 bookstores and comic bookstores and their employees, Dengler noted. She added that every qualified individual bookseller and bookstore needing emergency help this past year to date has received funds from Binc. “It never ends for booksellers who need help,” Dengler said, explaining that right now, Binc is focused on providing emergency funding to West Coast booksellers affected by this year's wildfires.
The message was clear: booksellers still need help “Please continue to donate to Binc if you can,” Dengler pleaded. “The need just isn’t going away. NAIBA continues to support it as a monthly donor. Please remind all of your booksellers that Binc is there to help.”
Update: Eileen Dengler's comments regarding Binc's fundraising success this year have been clarified.