ABA’s President Reports on Three Days of Publisher Meetings

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Dear Booksellers:

One of the most important, and interesting, things ABA’s president and vice president do each year is to visit — in conjunction with Oren Teicher, ABA’s CEO, and Joy Dallanegra-Sanger, the association’s senior program officer — the CEOs, COOs, and other major in-house figures at as wide a variety of publishers as we can fit into a three-day race around Manhattan. These are meetings in which the industry is analyzed from our different points of view, programs and policies are discussed, and important ideas are born — ideas like rapid replenishment, simplified co-op, and ABA programs from Indies First to Indies Introduce to Revisit and Rediscover.

This year ABA Vice President Robert Sindelar and I crisscrossed NYC with Oren and Joy, meeting with large publishers and small presses alike to discuss programs already in play, to brainstorm, and to present some fresh proposals that we, in conjunction with our colleagues on the ABA Board and the Booksellers Advisory Council, had discussed. Each meeting began with Oren’s brief “State of the Indies” update, in which he cited sales figures, store openings, store expansions, and stores adding new branches, and concluded by thanking publishers for their participation in our renaissance and requesting that they not only consider past proposals that some haven’t yet embraced fully, but also give full consideration to new ideas.

We proposed two major new programs, one involving backlist — which we see as having enormous potential for booksellers and publishers alike — and the other a new idea for returns — the bane of our existence and that of publishers. The first proposal was generated out of booksellers’ passion for backlist and the knowledge that publishers feel as strongly about it as we do. We began by wondering why the potential for backlist sales, long recognized, has not been fully realized and decided we might jointly devise a new program that would harness our passion for backlist to our marketing abilities and those of ABA in return for some changes in current publisher backlist programs.

We discussed these ideas with publishers along with a new program based on a returns incentive that would also reward both bookseller and publisher. Joy then pitched in, giving fresh details on familiar programs, asking that publishers extend their Indies First terms through Small Business Saturday, announcing the test of a new e-newsletter version of the Indie Next List (a thing of beauty and a stellar notion), and a set of wonderful rewards for in-store displays. I won’t tell you her secret but — spoiler alert — it involves booksellers at the Winter Institute! (See this week’s related story.)

We then addressed another issue — from the hard experience of one of us: the lack of helpful stock offers for new stores. A few publishers have aggressive programs, but most don’t, and, as Robert pointed out, it’s pretty hard to open a new store and expect to pay all the invoices on day 60. Since it’s in everyone’s interest to see more independent bookstores in the marketplace, it seems imperative that publishers — or publishers and booksellers together — figure this out.

That phrase — publishers and booksellers figuring things out together — pretty much sums up our three days of bookseller/publisher conversation. We didn’t always agree about the particulars, but we did agree that whether it’s improving sales of backlist, figuring out different returns policies and a better way to handle invoices (the potential of adapting the U.K.’s BATCH initiative — a story for another day), improving B2B programs, increasing rapid replenishment, or creating new ways to support indie expansion, it’s in our mutual interest to figure out new ways to think about the business of books.

Betsy Burton
President, American Booksellers Association
The King’s English Bookshop
Salt Lake City, Utah