2021 ABA Annual Meeting and Town Hall

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On Thursday, May 27, the American Booksellers Association convened online for its Annual Membership Meeting and Town Hall. Visit BookWeb.org to watch a recording of the event. (A Bookweb.org login is required).

The Annual Meeting opened with reports from outgoing ABA President Jamie Fiocco; outgoing ABA Vice President and Secretary/incoming ABA President Bradley Graham; and ABA CEO Allison Hill.

Fiocco’s report addressed:

  • Weekly meetings with CEO Allison Hill and Vice President Bradley Graham
  • Meetings with individual booksellers and groups of booksellers — including BIPOC booksellers, new bookstores, and booksellers who are not owners — to discuss how ABA can better address their needs
  • Bylaws changes that have updated, expanded, and diversified the ABA board, in addition to updates to ABA’s ends policies that have addressed contemporary free speech issues
  • The board’s participation in conversational Zoom meetups with ABA members
  • The board’s support of ABA’s continued efforts to improve e-commerce
  • The completed transition of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee (DEIC) to a staff-run entity
  • The management of ABA’s endowment
  • Interviews on behalf of independent booksellers with National Public Radio, the New York Times, the Xinhua News Agency, and the trade press.

Graham’s report addressed:

  • The loss of 80 members due to store closures as well as the association’s subsequent rise in membership (ABA now has 1,700 member companies in 2,100 locations)
  • The financial toll the pandemic took on ABA

    • ABA saw a $600,000 loss in revenue from not being able to hold the 2021 Winter Institute in-person. (Because it was a virtual event, expenses were $450,000 lower than that of an in-person event.) ABA also had a loss of $400,000 due to the cancellation of BookExpo. For the current fiscal year, ABA’s revenue is projected to be down $700,000, or 11.5 percent from pre-pandemic levels
  • The boost in ABA funding as a result of the surge in web orders through IndieCommerce
  • Membership renewals (as well as new members), which have been higher than forecast, attrition less than expected, and dues levels not impacted as much as anticipated
  • Forthcoming rebate offers for IndieCommerce users (August and September) and ABA members (September)
  • Authorization of spending for the #BoxedOut campaign last fall and the planned upgrade of IndieCommerce

Graham also addressed the association as incoming president of the board, noting that outgoing members include Jamie Fiocco of Flyleaf Books, PeteMulvihill of Green Apple Books, and Chris Morrow of Northshire Bookstore.

Hill’s report addressed:

  • ABA’s virtual Children’s Institute in 2020 and virtual Winter Institute in 2021
  • The expansion of ABA programming from a focus on a few events a year to regular financial and legal webinars, technology and marketing meetups, workshops, reading series, author events for customers, and more
  • The advocacy team’s work in lobbying for Paycheck Protection Program money, Economic Injury Disaster loans and grants, and rent relief

    • The Advocacy team also introduced new software that enables booksellers to be more effective in their follow ups to representatives.
  • Updates to ABA’s communication, including Bookselling This Week, daily updates, twice weekly coffee breaks, meetups, and forums
  • An increase of 787 percent in IndieCommerce sales
  • Work the association has done regarding representation, equity, and antiracism
  • ABFE’s continued advocacy against banning books in schools and libraries
  • Webinars, reading series, and reading guides in support of children’s bookselling created by the ABC children’s team
  • ABA’s work to help bookstores manage their financials and budgets
  • ABA’s offerings for nontraditional stores, such as educational panels, meetups, coffee breaks, and ShopTalks.

Immediately following the Annual Meeting was the Town Hall.

The Town Hall was facilitated by incoming ABA President Bradley Graham of Politics and Prose in Washington, D.C.

Graham was joined by ABA Co-Vice Presidents/Secretaries Christine Onorati of Word Bookstores in Brooklyn, New York, and Jersey City, New Jersey, and Kelly Estep of Carmichael’s Bookstore in Louisville, Kentucky.

The other ABA Board members present were Kenny Brechner of Devaney, Doak and Garrett Booksellers in Farmington, Maine; Kris Kleindienst of Left Bank Books in St. Louis, Missouri; Danny Caine of Raven Book Store in Lawrence, Kansas; Jake Cumsky-Whitlock of Solid State Books in Washington, D.C.; Melanie Knight of Books Inc. in San Francisco, California

Jenny Cohen of Waucoma Bookstore in Hood River, Oregon; Tegan Tigani of Queen Anne Book Company in Seattle, Washington; and Angela Maria Spring of Duende District Bookstore in Washington, D.C., and Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Here is a brief breakdown of what was covered at the Town Hall:

  • The future of ABA’s conferences. This year’s upcoming Children’s Institute will be virtual. For the Winter Institute in 2022, ABA is planning to hold an in-person event in Cincinnati; a few weeks later, a secondary virtual event will be held for booksellers who couldn’t attend in person.
  • The future of BookExpo. Right now, ABA is in a discovery period regarding a potential reimagined event that can help meet the needs of booksellers, publishers, authors, and other industry professionals. ABA is exploring opportunities for spring 2023.
  • Future education plans for bookstore succession. ABA had held education sessions on this in the past, including “Expect the Unexpected: Planning for Store Longevity.” There is also a guide to succession planning and valuing your business here. Related to the topic of succession planning are these sessions on transitioning or starting a cooperative and transitioning or starting a nonprofit. ABA and the board will explore more education opportunities on this topic for future sessions.
  • Supporting small and BIPOC presses. ABA is working to promote more small presses and has already taken steps to improve in this area. Recently, ABA required that at least five Indie Next List titles be from a small press. ABA is also looking at using the Book Buyer’s Handbook to share information about BIPOC presses. If booksellers are aware of any small presses that aren’t working with ABA, please let ABA COO Joy Dallanegra-Sanger know.
  • New ideas in bricks-and-mortar design. A conversation about future trends for bookstores is built into the ABA board’s schedule for planning education this year. ABA will continue to explore options for education sessions related to this topic based on post-pandemic needs as well as accessibility and equity needs.
  • Partnerships with library associations. The ALA has recently offered discounted tickets to the Library Marketplace at the association’s annual conference. ABA is also open to working with the American Library Association in the future. Watch BTW for more information.
  • Antitrust violations and the discussion of discounts. By definition, booksellers are competitors. Discussions of pricing policies and agreements between publishers and booksellers are currently illegal under legislation such as the Sherman Antitrust Act and the Robinson-Patman Act. ABA requires booksellers to abide by antitrust laws during meetings to protect both booksellers and the association itself from criminal charges.
  • Publisher discounts. This is a priority for ABA and the board, and it’s a major part of ABA’s regular conversations with publishers, as well as the annual publisher/board officer/ABA meetings currently underway. ABA will continue to advocate for better discounts moving forward. Also, submit to ABACUS — this data is crucial to advocating for change. (The deadline for submitting to ABACUS has been extended to Wednesday, June 16.)
  • Publisher mergers and consolidation. Through advocacy and communication with publishers, ABA is working to address issues of consolidation within the publishing industry.
  • Ingram’s centralization of IPS distribution. On June 1, Ingram made its Jackson, Tennessee, warehouse the single shipping point for its distributed lines, including Consortium Book Sales & Distribution, Ingram Academic, Ingram Publisher Services, Publishers Group West, and Two Rivers. Leslie Jobson and Johanna Hynes of Ingram answered questions regarding the specifics of IPS centralization, saying Ingram's concern is adapting distribution to the indie bookselling market. ABA has expressed concerns about this change in meetings with Ingram. Ingram will be holding weekly Zoom sessions with Ingram reps to help booksellers through the process. Find more information here.
  • The IndieCommerce help documents. A change in IndieCommerce help documents, including making documents easier to access and search as well as modernizing the format, is currently being discussed for future implementation.
  • USPS and shipping delays. This is a topic on many booksellers’ minds. Reach out to ABA’s Advocacy team to share concerns; the Advocacy team can connect you to the right people in your local government to share concerns with, too.
  • Bookshop.org. Concern was expressed about Bookshop's direct-to-consumer email marketing potentially diverting customers. ABA hears booksellers' concerns about Bookshop’s growth. Bookshop’s mission is to support independent bookstores, and it has continued to be responsive to suggestions and concerns raised by ABA on behalf of members to ensure that they are supporting that mission. As an example, Bookshop has made programming changes that have lengthened the amount of time a customer remains affiliated with an indie bookstore on return visits that result in a book purchase. Booksellers are welcome to contact Bookshop’s Sarah High to send feedback and concerns. Let the ABA board know, too.

Logged-in booksellers can watch the full meeting here.