Regional Shows In Full Swing
Staff -- 10/9/00
NEBA, SEBA and UMBA all celebrate bookselling, Book Sense and forthcoming titles
NEBA: The Importance of Being Earnest
With BookSense.com about to launch, and continued concern over the brave new world of buying and selling online, the 27th annual New England Booksellers Association (NEBA) trade show, held September 22-24, emphasized high tech. While panels on Book Sense and e-mail, "the killer app," were well attended, workshops on developing old-fashioned bookselling skills, like handselling children's books and hosting author events, were SRO. Booksellers also lined up for thousands of autographed books, and donated $1 for each one, nearly $5,500, to the Boston Adult Literacy Fund.
The return to the World Trade Center in Boston brought back many booksellers who sat out last year's show in Providence, R.I. Although figures were still down from NEBA's all-time high two years ago when the show celebrated its 25th, more than 1,500 booksellers and close to 1,000 exhibitors contributed to a 6% increase in attendance over 1999. Executive director Rusty Drugan noted that the ratio of booksellers to exhibitors continued high, at three-to-two, and characterized the show overall as "earnest. The show has all these components--the education, the authors, the orders--and all were running well."
The Boston venue drew many day-trippers. Irene Allen, co-owner of the Little Professor Book Center in Barrington, R.I, for example, came just for Sunday's two technology panels. "Technology was a draw for me," said Allen, whose many duties include the store's Web site and e-mail newsletter. "What makes me want to come is to find out what's new." Others, like Ed Morrow, co-owner of Northshire Bookstore in Manchester Center, Vt., come every year. "More and more NEBA replaces BEA," noted Morrow. "We buy here--backorders and books we might have missed."
On the exhibitor side, the word was "quiet." One New York publishing executive, who asked not to be named, complained, "The key people I want to see are in the panels." Independent representative Barb Montgomery Seager, lamented the lack of booksellers on the floor, with the closing of so many stores. "The pie plate is never going to be full again," she said. Still, for Cate Monr , president of one-year-old Moon Mountain Publishing in North Kingstown, R.I, "The NEBA show has been a good experience. We got a lot of local bookstores to promote our authors. It's a nice connecting."
While many booksellers insisted on crossing their fingers, most acknowledged that they had had a good summer and anticipated a strong holiday season. Lots of stores announced new additions--such as a cafÃ© for Northshire Bookstore--and expansions--Books on the Square will be adding another outlet in Providence, R.I, this fall. Several booksellers boasted of their longevity--Tatnuck Booksellers in Worcester, Mass., turned 25 in September, and the Concord Bookshop in Concord, Mass., is about to celebrate its 60th year.
As usual, the Friday programming and industry lunch, which featured bookselling guru Pat Holt of Holt Uncensored, drew hundreds of people. At the opening panel, Neal Coonerty, ABA president and owner of the Bookshop Santa Cruz in Santa Cruz, Calif.; David Bolduc, owner of the Boulder Book Store in Boulder, Colo.; and Al Norman, author of Slam-Dunking Wal-Mart (Raphel Marketing), offered suggestions for dealing with big box competition. Norman reminded listeners that "Barnes & Noble and Borders are not government mandates. You can speak out against them in your community. Just like a great book is written one word at a time, a great corporation has to be defeated one town at a time." Both Bolduc and Coonerty have declared war on chain superstores. "In my office I have a sign that says, 'War Room,'" said Bolduc, who has been instrumental in campaigning to make supporting locally owned businesses part of consumers' buying decisions in Boulder. He warned indies to seize this issue: "Don't let multinationals, through smoke and mirrors, make it theirs."
At lunch, Holt condensed a year's worth of her e-mail newsletters on the importance of midlist and independent booksellers into a 10-minute talk that both exhausted and exhilarated with its rapid pace and sheer multitude of ideas. Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney, who received this year's NEBA President's Award for lifetime contribution to arts and letters, charmed listeners with his speech on being considered a New England author. He joked that whenever he travels, "the feeling of displacement is always helped by going into the local bookshops." He added, "I do feel the same thing about going into a bar." But the standout address was by Barb Montgomery Seager, who paid tribute to her late husband, Marc Seager, recipient of this year's Saul Gilman Award for outstanding New England sales representative. Both awards include a $1,000 charitable contribution; Heaney and Seager chose the Irish Immigration Center and the Literacy Connection in Brighton, Mass., respectively.
In the afternoon, Book Sense senior marketing consultant Carl Lennertz asked booksellers "to do a little crystal-ball gazing." Panelists Arthur S. Golden, author of Memoirs of a Geisha (Vintage); NEBA president Donna Urey, owner of White Birch Books in North Conway, N.H.; and Pat Holt served as sounding boards as booksellers brought up issues ranging from the Web site Contentville (which Holt dubbed "a huge snore") to privacy. Elaine Sopchak, newsletter editor for the Book Rack and Children's Pages in Winooski, Vt., called on older booksellers who want to get out of the business to make their stores more affordable. This led to a discussion on ABA developing a bookseller fund. Urey suggested that the fund also help bookstores in distress. "When an independent closes," she said, "it's never just because of a chain. There's also a tipping point." The net pricing issue was also raised, to which Lennertz replied, "My personal opinion is net pricing would be the final nail in the coffin." Others expressed concern over e-books and whether their impact on the industry will be as minimal as that of audio or as revolutionary as paperbacks.
E-books were also the subject of the Print-on-Demand panel on Saturday with moderator Suzy Staubach, UConn Co-op in Storrs, Conn., and panelists Jean Srnecz, v-p, merchandising at Baker & Taylor, who spoke about the wholesaler's Replica Books POD division; and Susan Peterson, v-p of Lightning Source, Ingram's POD solution. To illustrate her point about the pace at which the business has changed, Srnecz noted that when the company did strategic planning in 1996, "we sort of thought the Internet would be important." They never imagined that the company would be fulfilling Internet orders for booksellers four years later. When booksellers complained that most POD titles are shipped at 20% discount, nonreturnable, Peterson responded that publishers, not Lightning Source, set the price. Many are rethinking their discount schedules, she said. Booksellers were impressed by Peterson's examples showing how close POD has come in quality to other books. Srnecz's pointed out that it is not affordable for them to reprint their store favorites. She showed a copy of a bookstore-initiated reprint of E.R. Eddison's The Worm Ouroboros to emphasize her point.
At Sunday's workshop on using the resources of the Internet, Eric Wilska, owner of the Bookloft in Great Barrington, Mass., recommended that booksellers not only look for out-of-print titles for their customers, but sell their own OP titles on the Net. He summed up his retailing philosophy as "The Way America Shops Is Changing," and advised booksellers to keep changing, too. Panelist John Phillips, sales director of PubEasy.com, which is in the forefront of that change, said that his company, which provides one-stop Internet shopping for booksellers, has already signed on 74% of the publishers and most of the major distributors in the U.K. It is now concentrating its efforts on the U.S. market. Baker & Taylor is working on a similar model, according to Arden Olsen. With Title Source II, he noted, "You can find the inventory of 15 distributors. Right now you can order from our system and K n."
The ABA Forum was relatively calm, despite some members' anger over the doubling of dues. Warren Cassell, owner of Just Books in Greenwich, Conn., spoke out against the increase: "I don't know how you expect people to pay this." Dan Chartrand, co-owner of Water Street Bookstore in Exeter, N.H., stood and replied, "The increase is long overdue."
At the annual meeting that followed, NEBA president Urey announced that the New England Book Festival, which was to have taken place next year, has been postponed. Executive director Drugan notified members that NEBA will have to move from its offices in Central Square, Cambridge, as of June 30, 2001. He also touched on how NEBA and other regionals will pick up the slack, as the ABA continues to move away from educational programming. The regionals will work with Donna Paz on their first joint educational initiative in 2001. In other news, past president Fran Keiltyspelling okay?, owner of Atticus Bookstore in Middletown, Conn., noted that starting next year, the NEBA Book Awards will be presented at the trade show, which will return to Providence in 2002.
Throughout the weekend, booksellers turned out in near-record numbers for author events such as early morning breakfasts with Jane Alexander, Ha Jin and Jonathan Lethem, among others. On Saturday, Michael Chabon generously agreed to substitute for fellow Random House author Kent Haruf, who was hospitalized with pneumonia. On Friday night, children's authors Denise Fleming and Mary Pope Osborne and illustrator Jerry Pinkney were featured at the annual dinner at the nearby Seaport Hotel. The hotel was also the site of the Saturday night annual party, cosponsored by Houghton Mifflin, Ingram, K n, Random House and Time Warner.
Volume 246 Issue 41 10/09/2000