As usually happens at trade shows, booksellers attending the first day of the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association spring event in Portland yesterday sat in on educational sessions on everything from book buying to increasing sideline sales. The sessions that got the most buzz, however, were the American Booksellers Association's breakout discussion called "Participating in the Digital Age" and the keynote luncheon featuring Michael Powell of Powell's Books, who knows a thing or two about selling books online as well as in the bricks-and-mortar world. And the fate of the spring show itself came into question as the association weighs postponing the event for two years.

As people change the way they search for information, independent booksellers need to change their modus operandi, said ABA Avin Domnitz. The success of things like Wikipedia and MySpace that rely on the "wisdom of masses" approach to information dissemination, said Domnitz, proved that people have an interest in communicating with other people. The good news for booksellers is that their stores are still places where people want to congregate, he said, but they are not the only places. "We need to approach consumers on a different level than we have in the past," said Domnitz. Only three booksellers of the approximately 25 attending the session said they had MySpace pages for their stores.

Will Peters from Annie Bloom's in Portland was one of the booksellers with a MySpace page. "It's two weeks old," he told PW Daily after the session. Managed by the store's publicist, Annie Bloom's MySpace page is events oriented and has a more informal tone than even the store's newsletter. "It's a way of reaching out to people who might not go to the traditional sources," said Peters.

At lunch, John Moe (Conservatize Me: How I Tried to Become a Righty with the Help of Richard Nixon, Sean Hannity, Toby Keith, and Beef Jerky, Morrow, 2006) interviewed Michael Powell about a number of topics, including his meeting with Jeff Bezos when he was still hatching Amazon. Powell recounted how Bezos approached Powell's about becoming Amazon's used-book dealer—but under the Amazon name, which did not appeal to Powell. Powell's does about a third of its business online. Asked how the role of independent booksellers has changed since 1979, Powell said, "I think we are being pressed to be better marketers."

Marketing is exactly the new direction PNBA is looking to. At the membership meeting, Will Peters, also PNBA president, presented the membership with a new mission statement for the organization that focused on how best to use its programs, like the holiday catalogue and book awards, to bring more customers into the stores. The PNBA board is asking the membership to vote on a proposal to take a two-year hiatus from doing the spring trade show so that the staff can concentrate on outreach to members and marketing its programs to draw customers to their stores.

This article originally appeared in the March 16, 2007 issue of PW Daily. For more information about PW Daily, including a sample and subscription information,click here»