The annual ritual of regional trade shows is drawing near. Many regional associations have grown over the past year and hope to see that growth continue. The Great Lakes Independent Booksellers Association (GLIBA) has added 19 new members since its last fall show—enough for it to reinstitute a mentorship program that it had let lapse a decade ago. Elsewhere, the Southern California Independent Booksellers Association (SCIBA) has maintained the “substantial increase” in memberships it saw ahead of last year’s trade show, according to executive director Andrea Vuleta. She says SCIBA has signed up a diverse group of new stores, including comics shops, a romance store, and children’s specialty booksellers.
Eileen Dengler, executive director of the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association (NAIBA), describes herself as “very happy” with her region’s increase in membership. “We attribute it to some new openings,” she says, “but mostly [to] Independent Bookstore Day and our spring meetings, which require you to be a member to participate.”
With many new and frontline booksellers attending the shows, much of the emphasis of the educational sessions has stayed on best practices. “One of the things we hear from members is ‘We want more nuts and bolts,’ ” says Steve Fischer, the executive director of the New England Independent Booksellers Association (NEIBA). He looks for ideas at national ABA conferences that he can bring back to his region, and is particularly excited to offer a program on human resources with John Sherlock, director of the HR master’s program at Western Carolina University, who did a similar workshop at Winter Institute 10. “I went to the session and loved it,” Fischer says, adding that “every NEIBA member who was in that room said, ‘We have to do this.’ ”
Another human resources workshop will be held in conjunction with the annual meeting of the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association (PNBA), the only regional alliance to have reported flat membership numbers and a continuing slow decline.
Social media has become just as essential for bookstores as staffing. The Northern California Independent Booksellers Association (NCIBA) is planning a session on social media and creativity with writer and artist Austin Kleon (author of Steal Like an Artist Journal) to help booksellers build clientele, grow their businesses, and connect with buyers in the age of Facebook. “We’re trying to make it as useful as possible so people can say, ‘Hey, I can do that,’ ” says Hut Landon, who is finishing his run as executive director.
On the East Coast, NAIBA is also planning a session on social media, as well as a retreat on the theme with the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance (SIBA) next year. “My goal is to create something [booksellers] can do,” SIBA executive director Wanda Jewell says. She wants booksellers to use ideas from the show to create events and panels at their stores. Although it’s Jewell’s 25th anniversary with SIBA—and the show is celebrating its 40th year—that hasn’t slowed her willingness to test new ideas. This year SIBA will launch the first regional consumer day. It is also unveiling a new exhibit, Trio, which will then travel to museums, galleries, and literary events throughout the region in partnership with SIBA stores. The exhibit consists of a song and a work of art inspired by a book. The songwriters include artists who have won Grammys and Country Music Awards; the visual artists range from photographers to painters and sculptors to a visual and special effects director for films.
Emphasis on Discovery Continues
The annual Heartland Fall Forum, a joint effort by GLIBA and the Midwest Independent Booksellers Association (MIBA), kicks off each year with the self-explanatory session “Ideas That Work.” “We really try to think what would be useful, what would be fun,” GLIBA executive director Deb Leonard says.
Heartland is also one of seven shows that will hold a session on Independent Bookstore Day, which will be celebrated nationally for the second time on Apr. 30, 2016. Both Northern California’s Landon and IBD program director Samantha Schoech will be touring this fall to meet with booksellers about making the event stronger and more useful to stores.
Many organizations have placed a greater emphasis on helping booksellers discover new books, authors, and ways of doing things—indeed, several added the word discovery to the names of their shows in 2014. “Last year we rolled out the whole discovery theme,” says Laura Ayrey, executive director of the Mountains and Plains Independent Booksellers Association (MPIBA). “We’re sticking with that. It just makes sense. The whole show is about discovery.” At MPIBA’s meeting last year, sales reps used “discovery” bookmarks to call special attention to selected new titles and backlist favorites.
Meeting authors at the shows has become more vital for booksellers, particularly in the Pacific Northwest. “Our show has become more important to our booksellers as a way to meet authors who might be invited to their stores for events that will attract customers,” PNBA executive director Thom Chambliss says. “Our stores have substantially cut staff to stay open,” he adds. “This has made it more and more difficult for the remaining staff, often just the owners, to get away from the store for any show, including ours.”
Though excitement is high about books, authors, and programming—including an ABA-sponsored session on understanding how publishing works (see p. 28)—there are some challenges ahead, including ever-increasing competition from Amazon. (“Same old, same old,” as GLIBA’s Leonard puts it.)
SCIBA will run a panel on minimum wage increases, another challenge that many executive directors bring up. “Minimum wage is extremely important,” NEIBA’s Fischer says. “We’re historically a progressive group of people. Everybody wants to do the right thing for their booksellers and their community.” But it’s hard, he says, given the sales margins on books.
Other association directors say it’s not as much a question of what employees are paid as it is how to get people to do their shopping at independent booksellers rather than through big online vendors. “Our stores aren’t talking about minimum wage,” NAIBA’s Dengler says. “They’re pretty used to rolling with those punches.” She says the real challenge is “getting people into the store and buying books,” or at least getting them to shop on independent stores’ websites. “We’re on a kick for IndieCommerce upgrades,” she says, noting that her board has been in touch with the ABA board on the subject. “What we’re asking for is a shopping experience that people have come to expect.”
“Our booksellers are in a really good place,” notes MPIBA’s Ayrey, whose concerns are two perennial issues: the continued “buy local” push and childhood literacy.
In a similar vein, MIBA executive director Carrie Obry says booksellers just need to keep up with opportunities as they emerge. “New technology is coming out all the time,” she says. “Should bookstores market via email or try out a new text-marketing service? There are many events to participate in through ABA, the regionals, and often publishers. And there are all the wonderful books, and each one is an opportunity.”
Fall Trade Shows 2015
SIBA Discovery Show
Hilton North Raleigh/Midtown (Raleigh, N.C.)
NAIBA Discovery Fall Conference
Hilton Doubletree (Somerset, N.J.)
PNBA Trade Show
Holiday Inn at PDX (Portland, Ore.)
NEIBA Fall Conference
Rhode Island Convention Center (Providence, R.I.)
Heartland Fall Forum
The Westin Lombard Yorktown Center (Lombard, Ill.)
MPIBA Fall Discovery Show
Renaissance Denver Hotel (Denver, Colo.)
NCIBA Discovery Show
South San Francisco Conference Center (San Francisco)
SCIBA Trade Show
Beverly Garland Hotel (North Hollywood, Calif.)
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