Given that Thursday was designated as an ABA day of education as well as a celebration of CEO Avin Domnitz, who steps down at the end of the show, the theme of the Ties That Bind seemed particularly apt. Starting with the eponymous keynote panel moderated by Roxanne Coady, founder of R.J. Julia Booksellers in Madison, Conn., which featured writers Lisa Scottoline, James Patterson, Jon Meacham and Sherman Alexie, the educational sessions highlighted bookseller connections to authors, publishers and customers in a time of transition.

As Coady noted in her opening remarks, change is not always easy. Quoting Netscape founder Mark Andriessen, she said, “There’s always destruction in the path of innovation.” That destruction, and avoiding it, was the subject of a number of sessions, which inevitably circled back to e-books, social media and the role of the independent bookseller.

Meacham compared the move from physical books to digital ones to the shift from letter writing to e-mail. If he’s correct, what’s an independent bookseller tied to a physical book to do? Alexie, winner of this year’s Indies Choice Book Award for Most Engaging Author and one of the few writers to refuse to allow his novels to be sold digitally, encouraged booksellers to “stay dysfunctional. If your store is not focused on your eccentricities, what’s the point? Otherwise you might as well be a chain store.” James Patterson, on the other hand, called on booksellers to show more tolerance for all sorts of readers. Booksellers should ask themselves, “Am I reaching out enough to the people who walk past my store?”

At a panel on Going Digital, the issue was not so much reaching out as keeping up. ABA’s chief program officer, Len Vlahos, said that the reality of e-books is starting to outpace the hype. As a result, ABA has made e-books a high priority and should have a robust e-book format in place for IndieBound’s e-commerce function by late June. Some publishers have already seen a significant change in their print sales. On O’Reilly Media’s Web site, digital books outsell print books 65 to 35, said Andrew Savikas, v-p of digital initiatives and program chair for O’Reilly’s Tools of Change for Publishing Conference.

Not that going digital will necessarily be easy. A number of college stores can’t even handle an online credit card transaction, according to Mark Nelson, digital content strategist at the National Association of College Stores and v-p, strategy and development, of NACS Media Solutions. Even so, he recommended that for booksellers to stay in the game, they need to focus on market share, not margins, so that they can position themselves in customers’ minds as an e-book source.

Independent booksellers may not have a good way to sell e-books yet—this week Baker & Taylor joined Ingram as a digital supplier—but some like Jenn Northington, events and marketing manager of the King’s English Bookshop in Salt Lake City, are getting ready by using social networking to find out which customers have digital readers. Not that Twitter doesn’t have other advantages. Stephanie Anderson, manager of WORD Bookstore in Brooklyn, N.Y., sends out a tweet at least once a week for help with buying decisions.

Click here for more BookExpo America 2009 coverage from PW.