When the American Booksellers Association first tested the concept of a post-holiday educational conference a decade ago, it wasn’t necessarily a sure thing that booksellers would come. “It was a direct response to evolving membership priorities to place greater emphasis on education and professional development,” ABA CEO Oren Teicher recalls. “Back then, our hope was to share the educational programming ABA presented at BookExpo America with booksellers who were unable to attend the convention.”
Unlike this year’s 10th anniversary conference in Asheville, N.C., the first Winter Institute, held in Long Beach, Calif., didn’t sell out quickly. In fact, it didn’t reach ABA’s self-imposed limit of 500 booksellers. But the nearly 360 booksellers from 200 stores who did attend were enthusiastic and encouraged ABA to continue the program.
Publishers, who were in short supply that first year, took note when a sales of a title from a small press, Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants (Algonquin), started increasing as a result of its exposure at the institute. In an email to booksellers, Gruen wrote, “There was one event in particular that really helped launch Water for Elephants: ABA’s Winter Institute in Long Beach, Calif. The value of connecting with so many of you in such an intimate setting was an experience I won’t soon forget.”
Gruen’s novel went on to become a bestseller and the 2007 Book Sense Book of the Year in adult fiction. It also established a pattern that continued last year in Seattle, when a significantly larger press, Simon & Schuster, used Winter Institute to launch Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See, which went on to become the bestselling adult fiction title of the 2014 holiday season at many indie stores.
“The hallmark of the institute has been that it has consistently evolved to meet the changing demands and challenges facing indie booksellers,” Teicher says. “Each year, the Winter Institute offers our members a unique opportunity for education—and for connection and conversations with their colleagues from around the country. But it has also been an important catalyst in the successful publication of a number of bestselling titles.”
This year, 63 publishers are sponsoring the institute. Eleven, including three university presses, are doing so for the first time. The Ingram Content Group, which is the lead sponsor, has supported the institute from the start. “We believe it plays a critical role in providing independent booksellers with diverse and relevant education opportunities that will help them improve and grow their business,” says John Ingram, Ingram Content Group chairman and CEO. “It’s the perfect place for booksellers to gather and learn through structured educational programming as well as the organic exchange of ideas and experiences. Ingram looks forward to continuing to support the growth and success of Winter Institute.”
ABA has worked to ensure that this year’s institute, with more than 25 educational sessions, will continue to educate booksellers, at a time when indies are enjoying a resurgence of print book sales.
Below, more on the ABA Winter Institute:ABA Winter Institute 2015: Authors and Books to Watch For at WI 10ABA Winter Institute 2015: Conversations with KeynotersABA Winter Institute 2015: A Growing State Offers Growing Opportunities For BooksellersABA Winter Institute 2015: Schedule of EventsABA Winter Institute 2015: Working Together