Over the past few years, some regional booksellers associations have moved away from holding fall trade shows in favor of onferences or forums to reflect a greater emphasis on authors and education. This year, many are transitioning once more—to “discovery shows.”
A sense of discovery—of books, of authors, and even of new publishers—is what led a number of regional executive directors to suggest a name change. The Mountains and Plains Independent Booksellers Association (MPIBA) board “loved the idea,” says executive director Laura Ayrey. “[The show] is the place for booksellers to make discoveries.” The same held true for the board of the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association (NAIBA). Executive director Eileen Dengler is reinforcing the message of important finds for booksellers throughout the show. NAIBA’s rep picks have been renamed First Step in Discovery and the exhibit hall, or publishers marketplace, is now where booksellers can, as the program puts it, “discover the world of books.”
When regional shows began more than four decades ago, their primary purpose was to serve as a venue where booksellers could order books for the all-important holiday season. But with electronic ordering and longer lead times, many stores have already placed their fall orders, and a few spring ones, by the time the regionals season begins in mid-September.
For Hut Landon, executive director of Northern California Independent Booksellers Association (NCIBA), adding the notion of “discovery” is a way to de-emphasize ordering while highlighting the continued value of the regionals. “I wanted to get away from some publishers judging the show’s success on how many orders are placed,” Landon says. “The number of orders taken at our show has dropped every year, even though the orders totals overall through the fall have remained constant. “We have a strong and far-reaching group of reps who cover our territory really well.” To enhance the discovery theme, NCIBA is asking exhibitors to choose three or four Discover Me titles and display them at their booths.
Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance (SIBA) executive director Wanda Jewell regards the name change to “discovery show” as a reflection of the reasons that booksellers should to continue to attend. For her, the enduring value of the SIBA show is in providing an opportunity for “discovering something valuable that you could not or would not have gotten without being at the show.”
Jewell upped the ante this year by creating a bookstore prize in memory of bookseller Matt Bibb, the Bibb Pick, that only attendees can win. The names of bookstores that register before September 1 will be placed on a ballot. Authors in attendance will vote on their favorite stores, and contribute personal gifts as prizes; for example, putting the store name in a novel or writing an essay for the store newsletter.
Regardless of whether a region chooses to rebrand its show as a “discovery show,” much of this year’s programming is built around helping booksellers find new ways to work with publishers and build better approaches to running their stores. That no longer necessarily means selling e-books or e-readers. As the Kobo contract matures and booksellers have made their choices, the e-platform’s executives have chosen not to attend this year’s shows.
Even without e-books on the agenda, there are still plenty of issues for the shows to address. The three-year-old Heartland Fall Forum, a joint effort of the Great Lakes Independent Booksellers Association (GLIBA) and the Midwest Independent Booksellers Association (MIBA), will kick off its opening day with a plenary session on the indie revival led by Stacy Mitchell, a senior researcher at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.
The New England Independent Booksellers Association (NEIBA) will launch its conference with a Conversation with Publishers, about how bricks-and-mortar stores fit into their strategies. Panelists include Bloomsbury USA publishing director George Gibson and Melville House cofounder and copublisher Dennis Johnson; Carole Horne, general manager of Harvard Book Store in Cambridge, Mass., will moderate. “Our booksellers tell us that education is the most important thing that they get from the fall conference. We’ve got over eight hours of education, covering 10 topics,” says NEIBA executive director Steve Fischer. As part of that programming, NEIBA has added both American Booksellers Association (ABA) programs on offer to its list: bookstore financials and making the most of Small Business Saturday.
NAIBA’s keynote, while not specifically about e-books, will focus on the increasing challenges of a digital world, particularly for booksellers, and the impact of technology on our economy, culture, and psyches. Panelists include Andrew Keen, author of The Internet Is Not the Answer (Grove Atlantic) and Franklin Foer, author of Insurrections of the Mind (Harper).
Although the Southern California
Independent Booksellers Association (SCIBA) show grew out of a moveable feast, this year the organization decided to separate the two and hold the feast at a later date. SCIBA executive director Andrea Vuleta hopes the change will bring more booksellers to the full show, which will focus on education and schmoozing. To get things off on a good note, literally, she invited reps and booksellers to bring their musical instruments to the conference hotel so that everyone can relax together.
This year, Workman is contributing to that sense of relaxation with a special cocktail at each show in honor of its bricks-and-mortar friends—and to promote The 12 Bottle Bar by David and Lesley Jacobs Solmonson. SCIBA will serve the Embassy Cocktail; SIBA, the Bibb; Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association (PNBA) and MPIBA, the Brown Betty; Heartland and NCIBA, the French 125; NAIBA, the Rye Buck; and NEIBA, the Amber Rum Buck. Abrams is trying a different twist—a pop-up signing booth for Mac Barnett and Jory John, the authors of its lead children’s title, The Terrible Two (illustrated by Kevin Cornell).
Each show will also offer a way for booksellers to give back to Binc, which provides funds for booksellers in need. Binc is collecting used cellphones, which it will wipe and then recycle to raise funds. Some regionals are giving to Binc in other ways, including free exhibit space. Earlier this year, PNBA’s board voted to switch its annual charitable donations, which had been going to local libraries, to Binc. In addition to gathering donations, Binc is helping booksellers attend the shows; NAIBA will give away three nights at a hotel thanks to funds donated by Binc.
If education is high on most booksellers’ lists of what they want from the trade shows, so is the opportunity to meet authors. Some of the more author-centric shows, like SIBA and PNBA, boast at least 100 authors. The latter, which received publisher requests to feature more than 150 authors this year, continues to add author events, like Sweet and Greet, a dessert and coffee gathering with 20 authors. “Our booksellers need to find good, primarily Northwestern authors, who will visit their stores as an attraction for customers,” explains PNBA executive director Thom Chambliss. The shows can be equally important for authors, Chambliss adds. “Newer authors especially have found that their books are lost in the jungle of Amazon.”
Last year SIBA tried to incorporate more authors by organizing a group reading, in which each participant recited a single paragraph from his or her book. It was so successful that Parapalooza is back with a dozen authors and will be hosted again by Tim Federle, author of Hickory Daiquiri Dock (Running Press). SIBA is also using its show to thank James Patterson for his generous gifts to booksellers with a Thanksgiving lunch, complete with turkey and all the trimmings.
“Publishers are really looking at us to launch authors, from debut authors to seasoned authors,” says MPIBA’s Ayrey, whose show has many built-in opportunities for authors and booksellers to meet. MPIBA will hold an author signing on the first night in the exhibit hall and has a full schedule of breakfasts, awards, lunches, teas, and books and brews with writers with a connection to the West Coast. Like the other regionals, MPIBA will showcase recently published authors as well as authors whose books aren’t due out until spring 2015.
The #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign, which launched this past spring, has had an impact on this year’s author lineups. NAIBA’s Dengler contacted the organization and created an author reception specifically for its members. SIBA’s Jewell was also inspired to create a show with more diverse authors. Participants include Michael “Cowboy Mike” Searles, author of All the Happiness You Deserve (Texas A&M), and Yamma Brown, daughter of James Brown and author of Cold Sweat (Chicago Review Press).
With 10 new stores and three successful ownership changes, NCIBA could be the poster child for the “modest growth” in membership that American Booksellers Association CEO Oren Teicher has reported in recent years. Heading into the holidays the region’s stores have had solid sales, according to Landon, who regards last May’s inaugural California Bookstore Day as both a big sales day and a “huge psychological boost.”
A number of regionals, including those of NAIBA and MIBA, are pleased to have had their membership numbers remain steady. “For every store we’ve had open,” says MIBA executive director Carrie Obry, “we’ve had a store closing.” With a few new stores and some stores with new branches, NEIBA’s Fischer expects membership to be up a “small notch.”
Still, there are challenges ahead, not least of which is the weather. Winter snows coupled with economic doldrums in the first half of the year caused the National Retail Federation to scale back its expectations from 4.1% to 3.6% growth for 2014. NEIBA’s Fischer jokes that “we’ll be doing our ‘no blizzards’ chants and dancing” to promote holiday sales.
NCIBA’s Landon is much more concerned about Amazon’s dealings with publishers. “If that means less money for publishers to help indies and Barnes & Noble market and promote their books, we will want to find ways to do that locally [and] regionally,” he says.
For now, Landon and his colleagues are focusing on one thing: the creation of invigorating, feel-good events. As NAIBA’s Dengler points out: “It’s a great way [for booksellers] to start the busiest season on a high.”
Fall 2014 Regional Trade Shows/Conferences
Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance
Sheraton Norfolk Waterside Hotel in Norfolk, Va.
For more information go to: www.sibaweb.com
New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association
Hyatt Regency Crystal City in Arlington, Va.
For more information go to: www.newatlanticbooks.com
Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association
Hotel Murano in Tacoma, Wash.
For more information go to: www.pnba.org
The Heartland Fall Forum (GLIBA and MIBA)
September 30–October 2
The Depot in Minneapolis
For more information go to: www.heartlandfallforum.org
New England Independent Booksellers Association
September 30–October 2
Rhode Island Convention Center Ballroom in
For more information go to: www.newenglandbooks.org
Mountains and Plains Independent Booksellers Association
The Renaissance Denver Hotel in Denver
For more information go to: www.mountainsplains.org
Southern California Independent Booksellers Association
The Beverly Garland Hotel in Hollywood, Calif.
For more information go to: www.scibabooks.org
Northern California Independent Booksellers Association
South San Francisco Conference Center in San Francisco
For more information, go to: www.nciba.com