This year’s Northern California Independent Booksellers Association Fall Discovery trade show, held October 27-28 at the South San Francisco Conference Center, marks the first year with Calvin Crosby as executive director.
Crosby, who assumed the role last year upon the retirement of Hut Landon, opened the two-day conference by telling the crowd of booksellers and publishers that the Taylor Swift song “Out of the Woods” came on the radio as he was driving to the show, which he found very apropos to the bookstore business, given the lyrics. “Are we out of the woods yet? Are we in the clear yet?”
The numbers from ABA show that bookstores are indeed out of the woods for now, clear-cutting a path to profitability. The ABACUS report from 2015 shows that 69% of stores had a positive net income, and 62% had a positive sales change.
Sales figures from 2016 are running about 5% higher than 2015 according to ABA president Oren Teicher, who noted that this year isn’t as spectacular as 2015 because election years are always “a little off.” Nonetheless, Teicher pointed out that stores are still anticipating a strong upcoming holiday selling season.
Crosby said bookstores have been reporting soft-ish sales over the summer, compared to last year. Still, Crosby echoed Teicher's outlook about the holiday season, saying he's "confident that sales across the board will increase substantially once the election results are in especially given the fall list that we saw at the show."
There was a slight uptick in attendance at the trade show, with 352 booksellers representing 71 stores and 51 exhibits, and 225 reps in attendance. NCIBA also reported solid financials, in part due to relocating its offices from San Francisco to the more affordable Sonoma, just north of the city.
Crosby called 2016 a year of transitions with a number of new stores opening, including Bel & Bunna's Books in Lafayette; Charlie's Corner; The Booksmith; Dog Eared Books in San Francisco; Copperfield's in Novato; Book Passage in Sausalito (coming soon); and Books Inc. in Santa Clara. There have also been transitions of ownership at The Bookshelf in Truckee, Four-Eyed Frog in Gualala and Point Reyes Books. One store closed in the region.
Pete Mulvihill, co-owner of Green Apple Books in San Francisco and Teicher led an educational seminar on understanding and acting upon the ABACUS-15 report, at which they addressed the biggest issues that stores face: the cost of goods, minimum wage increases and overhead. Solutions and strategies included adding used books to the mix to gain control over margins, as well as increasing the amount--and prices--of non-book items.
This year's show hosted 102 authors. Friday’s Adult Author Brunch saw Anne Lamott give a speech about grace and mercy as she introduced her new book Hallelujah Anyway (Riverhead). Maria Semple followed with a talk about her latest novel Today Will Be Different (Little, Brown), and Rebecca Solnit spoke about the third in her series of city atlases, Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas (UC Press). And Kareem Abdul-Jabbar participated in a Q&A about his new nonfiction title Writings on the Wall: Searching for a New Equality Beyond Black and White (Time Home Entertainment). After the Q&A the queue to take selfies with Abdul-Jabbar stretched across the stage.
For Solnit, this year was a time when she said she especially appreciated “the humanizing mission that books have." given the uneasiness produced by the unnerving presidential election. "The task of getting your facts right, thinking deeply before you text, understanding the historical background, seeing the real possibilities--these are the kinds of depths books bring us, and they get to people through booksellers.”