Great Lakes Independent Booksellers Association, Mountains and Plains Independent Booksellers Association, and New England Independent Booksellers Association—three regional bookselling associations that together represent half the states in the country—changed executive directors earlier this year. These new leaders have come on board in the midst of an independent bookstore revival that has led to increases in bookstore membership for the American Booksellers Association, which grew from 1,757 members with 2,321 locations in 2017 to 1,835 members with 2,470 locations this year. All three executive directors are determined to do their best to ensure long-term viability for booksellers in their regions by helping them connect with each other.
“People are definitely looking for change,” says Beth Ineson, who took over as executive director of NEIBA after more than 25 years in publishing in New England, most recently at America’s Test Kitchen. “It’s not the big stuff. It’s mostly tweaks.”
That has meant making the NEIBA newsletter more dynamic and facilitating more conversation online through a newly launched bookseller-only Facebook forum. Booksellers have been using the forum frequently to post real-time questions, such as, “I’m starting to do shipping, what are you using?” As a result of the forum, Ineson has seen a lot more engagement among booksellers, which translated into double the number of votes for the New England Book Awards this year.
“The mission of NEIBA is to help our members make a material difference in their business,” says Ineson, who takes that mission seriously. In addition, she has heard from members that they are looking for more opportunities to connect with each other.
Ineson reinstituted shop talks on different aspects of bookselling and is holding them throughout the region, starting with ones in Vermont and Maine, where NEIBA has members who are on the ABA board. She would also like to integrate more video into educational programs, but she is not clear how feasible that will be given the costs involved.
Giving booksellers more educational and networking opportunities, as well as chances to meet publishers and authors, is high on the to-do list for MPIBA executive director Heather Duncan. “That’s what was most important to me when I was a bookseller,” she says. After working for 28 years at the Tattered Cover Book Store in Denver, Duncan was hired to fill the vacancy for MPIBA executive director in January, when she was originally set to become president of the board.
Since Duncan took over the position, she has focused on growing membership and has added 25 stores. “We’re at 124 members right now,” she says. “Ten years ago we were at 200. After the 2008 recession, we never got back up to 200 again.” Duncan anticipates getting a little closer by adding another 20 members by the start of the trade show in October.
Rather than move the fall trade show from its traditional Denver location, which is centrally located in the region and easy for publishers and authors to reach, Duncan is planning to move the simpler-to-produce spring show on the road. With ABA’s support, MPIBA will offer three spring ABA forums in 2019, plus additional days with rep picks and author appearances. To succeed, this will require better communication with members. Through a little creative budgeting, Duncan found the money to hire bookseller Jeremy Ellis, most recently with Interabang Books in Dallas, to the newly created position of marketing and communications manager for MPIBA. Duncan has a few other things for him to work on, including creating a bookseller forum on the MPIBA website.
“I came to this position with a million ideas,” says GLIBA executive director Larry Law. A former bookseller with Anderson’s Bookshop in Naperville, Ill., for the past 17 years, he served on the board for two years and redesigned the GLIBA logo. Some of his ideas involve finding more ways to bring booksellers and sales reps together, something that more naturally occurs in large stores. In April, Law set up a rep night in Chicago, which was attended by 10 reps and more than 50 booksellers. He’s planning one for Michigan for the fall.
Involving more stores in GLIBA is another priority for Law, who has added 10 new stores since he took over as executive director. He would like to visit all 120 stores, which are located in six states. Since he started in March, he has already visited 33. Law would also like to see the Heartland Fall Forum, which GLIBA hosts with MIBA, go on the road as well—beyond rotating between Chicago and Minneapolis, where it will be held this year. Next year, Heartland will head to Cleveland; St. Louis and Louisville will host future trade shows.
In addition, Law is eager to promote more collaboration not just between bookstores but between booksellers and other people in the arts. As an artist himself and board member of the ArtBar in Aurora, Ill.—an art collective that holds monthly pop-up art galleries—his first joint effort was the August Lit Show hosted by ArtBar and GLIBA. The show, which took place at Two Brothers Roundhouse in Aurora, connected booksellers with authors and publishers amid literary-themed art.