The Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance annual meeting at the New Voices New Rooms conference on Thursday quantified the astonishing growth of the organization in the past year, which saw membership leap from 160 stores in 2019 to 589 stores. “At the start of the pandemic we opened up membership to anyone in the region and waived dues,” said Linda-Marie Barrett, executive director of SIBA, who added that despite the reduced revenue due to a lack of membership dues, cost cutting at the organization meant it did not have to dip into its reserve funds.
For official business, two new booksellers were formally welcomed to the board: Jamie Rogers Southern of Bookmarks in Winston-Salem, N.C. and Deanna Bailey of Story on the Square in McDonough, Ga, who had been appointed in July.
Several issues arose during the session, which took place over Zoom, with questions coming in over the chat function. Chief among these was an increase in delayed shipments from Ingram and Simon & Schuster, which some booksellers said have led to key titles not showing up on time. In addition, there were complaints raised about an increase in damaged books. That said, several people praised Marcia Wood, Ingram’s sales rep for the south, for being someone who solves problems and gets things done.
Another bookseller asked what SIBA was doing to become more diverse, equitable and inclusive. Barrett replied by explaining the Alliance released a "Statement Against Racism, and that the entire staff and SIBA board partook in DEI training with Cultures Connecting. In addition, the effort was, she said, “reflected in all of our programming, both the work SIBA does that is consumer facing, like Reader Meet Writer, and at New Voices New Rooms. For all our events, we are actively looking for more BIPOC authors to feature and are holding spaces for them.” She added that the issue will be raised at the organization’s board meeting next week to see if there is more that can be spelled out specifically in SIBA’s policies and bylaws.
SIBA board president Kelly Justice of Fountain Bookstore in Richmond, Va., called the online regional a “good sized meeting” and she was especially grateful for information that was shared from Binc about the relief programs they are offering to booksellers for Covid-19 and non-Covid related issues. Justice was also keen to tell members that if they had an issue or challenge they wanted to air on social media, to open two browser screens, so “when you’re pasting something into Facebook, you can copy it and sent it in an email to the ABA. That way it’s not just something that will solicit you support on social media, but it also becomes an action item.”
Barrett said that SIBA attendance at the NVNR conference was strong. Of the 856 registrants, 290 were SIBA members – up from 210 who attended last year’s event, a rise of 38%. In all, 116 SIBA bookstores were represented, up from 75 last year, which is a 55% increase.
“We are satisfied with how this turned out,” said Barrett. “We are looking at doing more programming in the future. Since the future is unknown and we have built something that works we want to keep things going and do our best to satisfy the demand for this kind of interaction.” She added, “It feels like we built the field of dreams and people are coming to it.”