A little over a month after its in-person fall conference in New Orleans, the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance held an annual meeting and town hall virtually yesterday afternoon that drew 32 attendees from across the region. Although the proceedings often delved into prosaic matters, the meeting demonstrated that SIBA is adapting well to the post-pandemic normal even while its membership continues to evolve -- and member bookstores in southwest Florida contend with recovery efforts after Hurricane Ian.
The meeting kicked off with a short presentation by Kathy Bartson of the Book Industry Charitable Foundation, who noted that booksellers from 14 stores in Florida have requested assistance from Binc to date relating to Hurricane Ian. Bartson predicted that disaster relief will be “significant this year,” as Binc is “hearing from folks in Florida that this was a big one but it’s not the last one.”
in her remarks, SIBA executive director Linda-Marie Barrett explained that SIBA regards 2022 as a “year of transition” due to the pandemic. Barrett pointed out that the organization has stepped up its programming, and that it intends to continue offering virtual programming as well as in-person events to better serve its membership in 11 states. Besides partnering with the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers on two virtual bookseller conferences this past year, SIBA held two in-person conferences for its members: SIBA’s Winston-Salem conference in April drew 70+ attendees total, and the New Orleans gathering in September drew 110 attendees total.
“SIBA intends to return to a larger format in person in 2023,” Barrett said, promising more news in coming weeks on a new format for the 2023 fall conference. Barrett later confirmed with PW that SIBA and NAIBA will continue partnering on both virtual and in-person events, and that SIBA also plans on hosting events exclusive to its members.
SIBA membership stands at 169 bookstores, an 11% increase over last year. Barrett then provided a few statistics regarding members gleaned from a survey she conducted this past year: the majority of the 76 SIBA stores that responded to the survey are women-owned; 40% have between two and five employees; 22% own their building; 26% run an associated side business (coffee shop, wine bar, editorial or publishing services, or a gift company); and while “the majority of responding stores operate on Main Street, about 20% operate in alternative models as a bookmobile, pop up, or mail order.” And, she concluded, while only 20% of SIBA stores had an e-commerce option on their websites pre-pandemic, today about 90% do.
SIBA, reported Barrett, is in “excellent shape” financially. Revenues are up over last year, and since 2020 SIBA “has more than tripled our financial assets through increased revenue and keeping operating and payroll expenses within budget.”
In SIBA board news, board president Jamie Southern, the executive director of the Bookmarks literary organization and bookstore in Winston-Salem, N.C. reported that the board is seeking to add members, as there currently are only five board members representing the 11 states that comprise SIBA. “We're looking at expanding that number to have a better range of voices to be heard that represent a very large territory,” she said, noting that the board is also discussing what defines a bookstore and how SIBA can best serve alternative bookstore models.
“Twenty percent of our membership is alternative bookstore models,” Southern explained, “Book mobiles and pop-ups -- we're seeing more and more of that, and we want to make sure that there's nothing standing in the way of those bookstores becoming full members, and participating in SIBA. What does our core membership look like, and where do we want it to go? That is an ongoing conversation.”