ABA’s Membership Meeting and Town Hall: Indies Fueled by Passion and Belief

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At the American Booksellers Association’s Annual Membership Meeting on Thursday afternoon at BookExpo America, outgoing ABA President Becky Anderson, co-owner of Anderson’s Bookshops in Naperville, Illinois, called the meeting to order and provided the Report of the President, which included the introduction of recently elected Board directors Annie Philbrick of Bank Square Books in Mystic, Connecticut; Robert Sindelar of Third Place Books in Lake Forest, Washington; and for a second term, Sarah Bagby of Watermark Books and Café in Wichita, Kansas. In addition, Anderson officially reported that Steve Bercu of BookPeople in Austin, Texas, and Betsy Burton of The King’s English Bookshop in Salt Lake City, Utah, had been elected ABA president and vice president/secretary, respectively.

Anderson told the membership that among the things she wanted to say in her final President’s Report was “a big good-bye.” Thanking her fellow booksellers for their support, she said, “I’ve learned so much from all of you,” and noted that one word she keeps coming back to is “invest.” One of the greatest strengths of the bookselling community is that colleagues “invest in one another,” she said, adding, “I have made such great friends, and you’ve enriched my life tremendously.”

Anderson also acknowledged the contributions of her fellow Board members, and said that she believes one of the biggest accomplishments of ABA bookstore members has been the “way we’ve changed how publishers look at what independent booksellers do. We’ve shown them our numbers are growing,” she said, pointing to recent openings of new stores, openings of branch stores by existing businesses, and new owners who have bought existing stores that might have otherwise closed.

Bercu provided the Report of the Vice President, including ABA’s Membership Report, noting it was “happy news” in that for the fourth year in a row, ABA’s membership numbers have increased. “We have 65 new [members] net … so that’s pretty good news.” He also noted that membership is approaching 2,000 stores and said, “I hope next year I’ll be hearing talk about more than 2,000 member bookstores.”

In the Report of the Chief Executive Officer, which included the Financial Report, ABA CEO Oren Teicher said the auditor had once again given the association’s financial statements a clean opinion. (The 2011 - 2012 Consolidated Financial Statements for ABA and its Subsidiaries and ABA’s 990 tax form are available to ABA members on the Governance and Finances page on BookWeb.org.)

“Our investment policy has stood us in good stead,” Teicher reported. “We try to manage our resources as effectively as possible…. and we’re committed to providing the highest level of educational programming and welcome your comments and feedback.”

Teicher noted that two years ago he began using this opportunity to talk with ABA members about some of the key challenges and opportunities facing the bookselling industry. “I challenged publishers to talk to us about how to re-engineer and re-do moribund business models. In 2012, we were still doing business in the same way as 1960.”

“We weren’t looking for a handout,” Teicher said, noting that the goal was to work together to “make us all more profitable. Bricks-and-mortar bookstores are where browsers become shoppers, where shoppers become readers, and where debut writers become bestselling authors.” Today, the majority of publishers recognize the unique role of indie bookstores, he said, noting that “over the past two years, a number of publishing houses have individually identified and tested their own innovative ideas regarding new business models.”

“Reinventing this model,” Teicher said, “has made a difference.” But he stressed that “this initial success is just a highlight of what can be achieved moving forward,” and he noted that ABA and its members remain committed to helping publishers test, fine-tune, and implement new business models.

Teicher then pointed to last week’s announcement that, beginning in June, Kobo eReaders and eBooks will be featured in a national brand campaign on NPR that will run until the end of the year. “Our partnership with Kobo has given participating stores the flexibility to sell eReaders and digital content … A lot of work went into that launch,” he said. “And we are growing, and we are making it better.”

Kobo will be funding the NPR campaign, Teicher reported, and ABA will be working directly with NPR to place the underwriting messages on such shows as All Things Considered; Morning Edition; Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me; Weekend Edition; and Ask Me Another.

Teicher stressed that NPR is the “gold standard” for reaching booksellers’ best customers, and this campaign will reach markets large and small, from coast to coast.

Pointing to the growth in ABA bookstore membership, Teicher said “This is not an accident, it’s a trend.” Noting that 2012 unit sales grew in the indie channel by almost eight percent, Teicher said that independent bookstores have held their own year over year for the first quarter of 2013. But, he also stressed, “I know that there are stores that are struggling, and we will continue to look to help these stores do better by delivering programming that helps them to be competitive.”

Turning to ABA’s advocacy campaign, Teicher noted that the U.S. Senate passed the Marketplace Fairness Act of 2013, a bill that would give states the right to require remote retailers doing $1 million or more in gross annual sales nationally to collect and remit sales tax. “The passage of the Marketplace Fairness Act in the Senate was pretty remarkable,” he said. “It wasn’t too long ago that the idea of sales tax fairness passing” the House or Senate seemed unrealistic at best. “We’ve a tough fight ahead, but I am absolutely confident that we will succeed…. We can win this, and we can win it in 2013.”

Teicher cited the initial success of ABA’s first multi-publisher promotion, “Thanks for Shopping Indie,” and said the results of the promotion demonstrated the importance of in-store browsing and discovery. In stores showcasing the featured titles, sales were decidedly higher than overall industry market share, Teicher reported. The promotion showcased the unique role that independent booksellers play — especially in helping readers and book buyers discover great new writers. “Importantly, during — and immediately following — the promotion, the sales of the featured titles rose across other channels as well,” he said, “making clear, once again, the unique and essential role bricks-and-mortar bookstores play in the discovery and sales of titles across all channels.”

Teicher thanked ABA’s Board members, calling them an “extraordinary group of people.” Regarding outgoing Board member Tom Campbell, he said, "Tom Campbell is a quiet guy, who doesn't speak much, but, when he does, he always has something helpful to contribute. We will miss him." Of Anderson, he said, “Nobody brings more dedication and passion. To list her achievements on the Board, that list would take a long time. This association and community are a lot better because of the things you’ve done, and we appreciate it.”

In conclusion, Teicher stressed that ABA is fueled by its members’ passion and belief in meeting change. “Things are changing … quickly,” he said, “and we wish to ensure that you can be those innovative agents of change. I know the best days of independent bookselling are still to come.”

ABAs Town Hall Meeting

At the Town Hall, held on Thursday afternoon, May 30, just prior to the Annual Membership Meeting, topics included publisher best practices, e-book release dates, sales tax fairness, and how to better publicize World Book Night.

Anderson and Bercu chaired the Town Hall, a yearly meeting that provides members with an open forum to bring questions, suggestions, and concerns to the attention of the ABA Board and staff, and to share them with fellow booksellers.

Steve Rosato, BEA show director, spoke briefly and asked booksellers to share their comments and concerns about the show. Rosato told ABA members that Reed Exhibitions “is looking to do new and different things … and we’re always open to suggestions.” He noted that, for the first time, the show will be open to consumers on Saturday, June 1. “We’re anticipating 2,000 people, but I’m expecting there will be more than that. But there will still be important business-to-business [trade show meetings] during the day.”

Reed, he said, has stressed to publishers how important it is that they ensure that key personnel are there on Saturday and not treat it as simply a consumer day. “We expect some 8,000 people on the trade show floor that day,” Rosato said. “We emphasized that [to publishers] very strongly. We pushed it as much as we could. I anticipate that you will be pleasantly surprised.”

Peter Glassman of Books of Wonder in New York City suggested that ABA “start up a committee to create a best practices list for publishers” and, as an example, noted that “no two publishers do their invoicing the same way…. There are lots of things that [publishers] could do [to serve booksellers better] that would cost them nothing. As an organization, if we got together” it might prompt publishers to improve their processes.

Anderson said Glassman’s suggestion was a “great idea” and asked booksellers to send their ideas aimed at helping publishers improve practices to ABA. “We could then create a list.”

Colleen Kammer of Book Beat in Oak Park, Michigan, noted how well the annual celebration of Record Store Day has spurred business for a neighboring independent record store. “Every year it keeps getting bigger and bigger and [the store owner] told me it is three Christmases in one,” she said and asked if the independent bookselling community could do something similar.

Bercu noted that the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association was exploring holding just such an event at the regional level. “We’re discussing this with the Board and some publishers,” he noted.

Thomas Roberts of Ye Olde Warwick Book Shoppe in Warwick, New York, wondered why e-book versions of bestsellers weren’t published after the hardcover versions went on sale. “We were told that May 14 is the day that Inferno went on sale but it was already downloadable in e-book format,” he said. “Why isn’t [the release of e-books] being staggered?”

Bercu noted that booksellers should not expect any e-book terms to change until after the e-book antitrust lawsuit brought by the Department of Justice against Apple is resolved. The trial is set to begin Monday, June 3. (Five publishers involved in the suit have already settled with DOJ.)

John Bennett, an attorney and consultant for Fieldstone Book Company in Wyckoff, New Jersey, asked about the status of the Marketplace Fairness Act of 2013 (H.R.684) in the U.S. House of Representatives. ABA Senior Public Policy Analyst David Grogan noted that a timeline for the bill has yet to be set, but the priority at present is to have the bill considered by the Judiciary Committee. He urged booksellers to use the template letters in the E-Fairness Action Kit to reach out to their representatives to express their support for the bill.

ABA CEO Oren Teicher added that the association is currently in the process of reaching out to particular booksellers in key districts in hopes of facilitating meetings between their representatives and a coalition of independent store owners. “We can win this, but your members of Congress need to hear from you,” he said.

Linda Bubon of Chicago’s Women & Children First noted the success of World Book Night in motivating givers and distributing titles, but she also expressed her concern that the program was not receiving adequate publicity. “You do a lot of publicity to get people to sign up in January, but then World Book Night doesn’t hit until April. It’s such a fabulous national movement but … we’re not getting enough publicity. It needs to be in the media [more],” she said.

Cathy Langer of Denver’s Tattered Cover Book Store, who is on the World Book Night Steering Committee, noted that “publicity is a very big topic,” and also pointed out that the Friday before this year’s World Book Night, the media’s attention was locked on the hunt for the Boston Marathon bombers. That said, she urged booksellers to provide the committee with their input. “E-mail me your thoughts,” Langer said.

Gayle Shanks of Changing Hand Bookstore, a former ABA president herself, took the floor to thank Anderson for doing an amazing job as president. “As a person who knows the inside and outside of this job,” Shanks said, “we are very lucky to have had you.”

Shanks then voiced her concern that part of the reason booksellers attend BookExpo America is to meet their bookselling colleagues, but another part is to interact with publishers. “I feel like we’re missing our publishing colleagues” this year, she said. “You walk through the booths and there is no one there…. Booths are getting smaller. It feels like there is a missing piece.”

Bob Sommer, also of Changing Hands, told members that he had been unhappy with the prices his store was getting from PartnerShip, ABA’s shipping partner, and was able to find better pricing elsewhere. Sommer suggested that others might be able to do the same. Anderson stressed booksellers should always check prices, and noted that variations can occur depending on who’s shipping, what they’re shipping, and where they’re shipping to. “That’s definitely something to look into,” she said.

Bercu added that ABA’s business services are something that needs to be studied each year. “Everything is changing constantly,” he noted.