A new electronic gift card that builds on the Book Sense gift certificate program; a review of the new five-year strategic plan; and a general optimism about the state of the association and booksellers dominated the American Booksellers Association town meeting and annual meeting held during BEA.

CEO Avin Domnitz emphasized that the new strategic plan puts a higher priority on education and information services than the original five-year plan, which stressed advocacy programs. Among the association's accomplishments: more educational programs at BEA, which were well-received by booksellers; a reintroduction of the ABACUS study; the introduction of the electronic gift card later this year; the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression's battle against the U.S.A. Patriot Act's onerous provisions concerning bookstores; and the continuing fight for states to collect applicable taxes on Internet sales.

Perhaps ABA's biggest accomplishment is Book Sense. Over the past five years, the ABA has invested $11 million to create Book Sense and BookSense.com. The association now is moving toward making the program self-sufficient. Already Book Sense is running a slight surplus in the current fiscal year, while BookSense.com has a loss of $338,000, an improvement over previous years.

Several booksellers asked about new trading terms and discount policies announced in the past year by Penguin and HarperCollins that give an extra four discount points to booksellers with substantial distribution centers and many outlets. Domnitz said that the association is "very aware" of the terms, which he described as "practically excluding all but a precious few booksellers."

Domnitz ended his discussion of the state of the ABA and independent bookselling by saying, "It is a joy to be CEO of this organization and to try to help independent booksellers. You are the best people in the world."

In a bit of negative news, association membership continues to slide. As of April, bookstore members numbered 1,908, off 9% from a year earlier. Overall membership, including industry members and prospective booksellers, dropped 11.4%, to 2,643.

Because of the depressed stock market, the association did not receive some $400,000 in dividends that it had expected from its substantial investments, leading it to project an $800,000 deficit for the current fiscal year, which nonetheless is an improvement over last year's deficit of $2.8 million. The association's fund balance—much of it derived from the "nest egg" after selling the convention to Reed Exhibitions—is $17.3 million, down 18.3% from $21.2 million last year.

Book Sense will likely earn the association some $1.8 million, compared to $2 million in fiscal year 2002. BookSense.com should have income of $625,000 this year, compared to $416,000 last year. Other income sources include dues, which are expected to bring in $1.4 million this year, and BEA royalty, at $800,000.

What's an ABA meeting without a little controversy? Some members expressed discomfort with a few of the association's marketing alliances, particularly with Coca-Cola's Bacardi Mixers, a four-month promotion that will earn the ABA $40,000. Some felt such promotions should be with companies that are more logically associated with bookstores and reading, such as the ABA's links with the New Yorker and Levenger.

ABA marketing head Michael Hoynes explained that Bacardi had approached the association to create the Mixers sweepstakes program because research shows that independent bookstores' reading groups share demographics with Bacardi drinkers, mainly women 40 and older. "This is just one proof of the success of Book Sense," he said. "Other marketers are coming to us." ABA v-p Mitch Kaplan of Books & Books, Coral Gables, Fla., said that the board would be careful to seek appropriate links in the future.