For the third year in a row, the American Booksellers Association held its annual meeting virtually, followed by a Town Hall with 268 booksellers and other guests. The meeting, originally scheduled for May 26, had been postponed due to an accident involving ABA CEO Allison Hill.

Board president Christine Onorati of WORD Bookstore in Jersey City, N.J. and Brooklyn touted its accomplishments this past year. Besides a $3 million investment in IndieCommerce, the board established a social responsibility component to the organization’s investment policies and a vendor review policy. Its conflict of interest policy was updated, and a more transparent system has been established for CEO oversight. Full recaps of board meetings are also now posted on the ABA’s website, and the board holds virtual office hours “We have worked hard to be as transparent and accessible as possible as part of our commitment to change,” Onorati said.

Board v-p and secretary Kelly Estep, co-owner of Carmichael’s Bookstore and Carmichael’s Kids in Louisville, Ky.,reported that as of July 1, ABA membership was up 6% over a year ago: there are 2,023 bookstore members operating in 2,506 locations and 207 provisional members. There were 215 ABA member store openings in 2021 and 41 closings, plus 85 stores opened since January.

In her CEO report, Hill recounted the ABA's accomplishments over the last year. Those included fighting back against the book challenges and bannings that have escalated in the past year, supporting anti-trust legislation – including advocating that Congress pass the American Innovation and Choice Online Act -- and promoting DEI efforts within the organization, which included establishing the Advance Access program for Underrepresented Voices.

Concluding her report, Hill noted, “Year two of the pandemic proved harder than year one in many ways, in part because, as several of you said to me at the spring regional shows, it's hard to keep going back to a well that's dry. Many of you have told us you feel depleted. I know the news the past few months may have added weight to your already heavy shoulders, and I'd like to tell you that it's going to get easier, but we're not quite there yet. It will get easier though. And the good news is that the disruption you have experienced has revealed your core of creativity, resilience, and commitment, and generated innovation and insight, all of which have positioned this industry for a brighter future."

Town Hall

The meeting was followed by the traditional Town Hall where the ABA’s changes to its Ends Policies was one topic of discussion. Sarah Goddin of Quail’s Ridge Bookstore in Raleigh, N.C. asked if the ABA board plans on revisiting the changes that have been made, or might even poll member bookstores for their opinions. Board member Cynthia Compton of 4Kids Books & Toys and MacArthur Books in suburban Indianapolis assured Goddin of the board's "unwavering" commitment to free speech. She urged booksellers to remain engaged with one another and with the board. “Let's keep talking,” she said, “And let's just keep talking today.”

In response to a question by Matt Norcross of McLean and Eakin Bookstore in Petoskey, Mich., the board moved on to another issue that has long concerned booksellers: consolidation within the industry.

“It’s something we’re all thinking about, we’re all concerned about,” Danny Caine of The Raven Book Store in Lawrence, Kan. responded, noting that the board was taking a “global look at where the industry is and where the industry is going and how best to position ourselves.” Hill added that the issue of consolidation in the industry goes “hand in hand with our antitrust work and is something that we’re concerned about.”

The ABA is completing its annual business meetings with publishers, Hill noted, and will be reporting on them to its membership in coming weeks in Bookselling This Week. She disclosed that at least one publisher who had extended buying terms to indies during the pandemic has experienced significant growth in the indie sector as a result. “We've been sharing that with other publishers as kind of a case study and a best practice as far as we're concerned,” Hill reported, noting also that publishers are most concerned with supply chain disruptions and discoverability.

During the pandemic, she told booksellers, “publishers lost out on the value proposition that you all offer, which is someone coming into your store and discovering a new author, discovering a new book. That's obviously changed as stores have reopened, but there still is some concern around discoverability and how it helps drive sales.”

In response to a question by Janet Geddis of the Avid Bookshop in Athens, Ga. as to whether the ABA was “collectively over-correcting” in terms of limiting discussions of prices and costs, given the size of the industry, Hill emphasized that she had discussed this with the ABA’s attorneys and that she had been assured by legal counsel that the organization was doing the right thing. “It’s not about our size, it’s about the potential for collusion in the marketplace.”

During the year, several ABA board members resigned for different reasons and as the Town Hall wound down, several current board members took the opportunity to testify about how transformative being on the ABA board has been for them and suggested that booksellers might nominate themselves or others.

"It's hard but it's really worth it, and I certainly didn't know that this was going to be the experience I'd have walking into it, and I'm going into my fifth year now," said Angela Maria Spring, owner of Duende District Books, which has pop-up stores in Washington, D.C. and Albuquerque. "I have grown so much as a person, as a bookseller, as a colleague, it has truly been a life changing experience and I don't say that lightly."

“It’s hard work, but I will say that out of all the things I do, I feel like this is one of the most important,” Melanie Knight of Books Inc. in the San Francisco Bay Area declared, “It means a lot to me to be on this board. It means a lot to me to have my voice heard."

Editor's note: This story has been revised to fix misquotes and mischaracterizations. We apologize for originally attributing the quote made by Angela Maria Spring to Cynthia Compton.