ABA and SEBA Booksellers Meet in Tampa

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The American Booksellers Association kicked off its 2004 Booksellers Forum schedule on Friday, January 9, in Tampa, Florida, with a gathering of booksellers from the Southeast Booksellers Association region. The forum, at the Hillsborough County Public Library, was the first of 16 scheduled over the next four months in various locations around the country. (For a complete forum schedule, click here.)

ABA board member Carla Jimenez of Inkwood Books in Tampa and ABA COO Oren Teicher moderated the meeting, where they provided an update on the association's activities, answered questions, and listened to booksellers' concerns about everything from Book Sense to general trade practices.

"It was a very engaged, positive group … with very mixed levels of participation in ABA's programs," explained Jimenez. "We discussed Book Sense in general and the gift card program, which we [at Inkwood Books] love. I would love to be able to tell my customers that the card is good in stores throughout Florida."

Caren Lobo of Sarasota News & Books in Sarasota, Florida, said much of the forum discussion centered around Book Sense gift cards, which she described as a "big point of interest" for her. "We had many reservations and questions," Lobo said. "We've seen the demonstrations and listened to people's reservations … but now we're going to jump on it and grow our business even more…. Being in the vanguard is important."

To demonstrate the ease with which the gift cards are processed, at the conclusion of the forum, Jimenez invited all booksellers in attendance to her store for a demonstration. One of those who went was Andrea Gillean of Andrea's Bookstore in Palatka, Florida, who said, "When we first learned about the gift card program, we thought it sounded so complicated…. Then, we went over to Inkwood to see how it works, and we found it wasn't very complicated at all…. Now we're planning to sign up."

Other topics of discussion at the forum, according to Jimenez, were December sales results and the recent letter from ABA President Ann Christophersen to booksellers, which described the association's plans to mark the fifth birthday of Book Sense, including a special project to select the best Book Sense 76 titles published during the past five years, a new look for the 76 lists, and changes in White Box mailing procedures. (To read Christophersen's letter, click here.)

Of the announced changes to the Book Sense 76 lists, Rona Brinlee, owner of The Book Mark in Atlantic Beach, Florida, and a member of the SEBA Board of Directors, said there was discussion about "76 titles being too many, and 15 being too few."

Brinlee described her attendance at the forum as "very worthwhile…. We got a lot of information from ABA and also from other booksellers." In addition to gift cards and the changes to the Book Sense 76, Brinlee mentioned that the cost of BookSense.com and the availability of co-op funds to offset the cost, as well as ABA's relationship with Ingram -- which provides the Web site database -- were discussed at the forum.

For booksellers in the Southeast who were unable to attend the Tampa forum, there will be a second forum on Wednesday, January 28, at McIntyre's Fine Books in Fearrington Village in Pittsboro, North Carolina (near Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill). For more about the Pittsboro forum, click here. --Rosemary Hawkins