ABA Bookseller Forum in New England Covers Tattered Cover and Music Royalties

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Over 20 booksellers attended an ABA Booksellers Forum on April 11 from 10:00 a.m. to noon in the Writers and Readers Room at Brookline Booksmith in Brookline, Massachusetts. Held in conjunction with the New England Booksellers Association (NEBA), the forum covered a wide range of issues, including ABA’s future goals, the recent Tattered Cover court victory, and questions regarding music royalties. "I thought [the forum] was very upbeat," said Rusty Drugan, executive director for NEBA. "I thought that it was a very participatory, informed discussion."

Among the forum attendees were ABA CEO Avin Mark Domnitz; COO Oren Teicher; ABA Board member Suzanne Staubach of U-Conn Co-op bookstore in Storrs, Connecticut; ABA Booksellers Advisory Council member Dana Brigham of host store Brookline Booksmith; and BookSense.com Director Len Vlahos.

The first hour of the forum was devoted to the proposed ABA Strategic Plan. As in other forums, booksellers in the region had received in advance a survey questionnaire listing the new plan’s six proposed goals, and they had been asked to rank them in order of importance. Then, the booksellers discussed the goals in some detail and offered their thoughts and feedback on priorities. "It was a lively discussion on the nuances of words," said Bob Hugo, owner of Hugobooks, Inc., a three-store holding company. "It gives Oren and Avin a better feel for how the wording should be, and they were really querying the membership."

Following the discussion, the floor was opened up for comments and questions from booksellers. A number of booksellers made special mention of the Tattered Cover’s recent legal victory (for more on the Tattered Cover legal victory, click here). "There was a lot of comment and appreciation for Joyce Meskis’s [owner of the Tattered Cover] triumph," concurred Drugan.

"We all rejoiced over the Tattered Cover, and how important it was for all of us, even though it was only a state victory," said Brookline Booksmith’s Brigham.

Another topic of discussion was music royalties. BMI and ASCAP are international performance rights organizations that collect license fees, better known as royalties, for the "public performance" of music composed by the songwriters, composers, and music publishers that they represent. Public performances would include playing or broadcasting music in a bookstore. Hugo noted that royalty companies are very aggressive in their phone calls and mailings to bookstores and wondered what dictates whether a bookstore should pay royalties.

Drugan said that these types of phone calls from companies such as BMI tend to come in waves, and "we’re in one of those waves now. They’re going after smaller stores to get them to pay royalties." [BTW will have more on bookstores and music license fees in the upcoming weeks.]

Also discussed was the issue of Internet sales tax, and the steps ABA has taken over the past year, together with other national organizations and regional booksellers associations, to help ensure a level playing field for bricks-and-mortar bookstores. "Oren [Teicher] said because so many states are having to deal with shortfalls in their budget due to the recession," said Drugan, "there’s a sense that the public officials at the state and local level are going to be more and more anxious to recapture that [lost] revenue."

Following the forum, Vlahos led a BookSense.com demonstration for interested booksellers. "Len did a wonderful after-meeting on BookSense.com," said Hugo. "He’s very knowledgeable."