ABA Town Hall Meeting and Annual Membership Meeting

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Ann Christophersen

This year’s Town Hall Meeting was filled with positive and constructive comments from attending booksellers. Incoming ABA President Ann Christophersen of Women and Children First in Chicago opened the informal meeting and asked booksellers to share their thoughts about ABA and its many programs, be it accolades or criticism. Joining Christophersen were outgoing ABA President Neal Coonerty of Bookshop Santa Cruz in Santa Cruz, California, and Mitchell Kaplan of Books & Books in Coral Gables, Florida, the new vice president. (The town hall format grew out of the desire of ABA members to have an opportunity to share feedback, ideas, and concerns in a less formal context than the association annual meeting, which, under New York State law, must adhere to more formal rules of procedure.)

The hour-long meeting began with an announcement by Greg Topalian, vice president and show director for BookExpo America, that ABA and Reed Exhibitions have agreed to a 10-year contract extension, meaning that the partnership between ABA and Reed will last at least until 2015.

As part of a joint statement, ABA CEO Avin Mark Domnitz commented: "ABA is delighted to be entering into a new 10-year agreement with Reed as a partner in BEA. As the trade show grows -- and reaches out to new participants -- this agreement reaffirms Reed’s commitment to the independent bookstore community -- and demonstrates that no matter how the show evolves and changes -- independent bookstores remain a leading focus of this annual gathering of the American book business."

ABA’s BEA-related income has been approximately $900,000 a year for the past few years, and that figure is expected to grow with future show participation, according to ABA.

A prominent topic at the Town Hall meeting was Bookselling This Week in its online format. Those present received an explanation of BTW’s new enhanced printing options. Copies of the most recent issue were distributed, and the response was positive. Following up on a suggestion from Ed Morrow of Northshire Bookstore in Manchester Center, Vermont, BTW is testing new printing options with larger type sizes. (For more on the new, enhanced printing options, click here.

Other topics covered at the meeting were the ABA Book Buyer’s Handbook in electronic format and the importance of ABA’s advocacy efforts. Throughout the show, bookseller and publisher reaction to the new online edition of the Handbook was very positive, and, at the Town Hall meeting, Dick Dugan of A Likely Story Children’s Bookstore in Alexandria, Virginia, summed up the feeling of many: "I want to thank you for putting the ABA Book Buyer’s Handbook on line." Dugan noted that A Likely Story had already used the online Handbook to increase its efforts in securing co-op. (For more on the ABA Book Buyer’s Handbook, click here.

ABA’s Annual Membership Meeting

Immediately following the Town Hall Meeting was ABA’s Annual Membership Meeting. The meeting was chaired by Neal Coonerty, who discussed his past two years as president.

At the start of the meeting, the 2002 election results were reported. In the recent election, the membership ratified the election of Ann Christophersen of Women and Children First in Chicago as the new president and Mitchell Kaplan of Books & Books of Coral Gables, Florida, as the new vice president/secretary. The members also elected Neal Coonerty of Bookshop Santa Cruz, California; Russ Lawrence of Chapter One Book Store in Hamilton, Montana; and Karl Pohrt of Shaman Drum Bookshop in Ann Arbor, Michigan, as ABA directors, with terms ending 2005. Coonerty is the outgoing ABA president, and Lawrence is joining the ABA Board for the first time.

In his president’s report, Coonerty reviewed the previous year, noting especially the role independent booksellers and ABA had played in creating more equitable terms for independents, in large part through the suit against the chains and other advocacy efforts. "In a significant way, we have taught the publishers that they can say ‘no’" to illegal requests, he noted, adding "every time that you look at your invoices" booksellers will see results in improved terms.

Coonerty noted that while membership has gone down over the past year, retention rates have remained stable at over 80 percent. Current ABA regular membership, as of December 31, is at 2,191, down from 2,794 from a year before. Coonerty explained that the decline was due, in large part, to the fact that very few new independent bookstores were opening. However, despite the decline in membership, he reported that independent market share had remained constant for the third year in a row. In fact, it had grown in terms of dollar sales.

Coonerty also exhorted booksellers to participate in the Book Sense program. "I don’t want to ask you to go back to your stores and do something -- I want to tell you that you have to go back to your stores and do something," he said. With greater participation in such programs as the Book Sense Bestseller list, Coonerty said that independents would continue to increase their profile with publishers and others in the industry. "Now that you are a player, do you want to play? And the way we are going to play is the participation in the Book Sense programs," he said.

Saluting independent bookstores for the role they play in "building community" and their "involvement in the literary life of our communities," Coonerty said, "the end of my [president’s] report is a great big thank-you to you."

Avin Mark Domnitz gave his CEO’s Report at the meeting, reviewing highlights of the 2001 consolidated financial statement. He detailed the association’s investment of resources over the past several years in new programming to help ensure the success of independent bookselling in the U.S. This investment of approximately $10 million has resulted in, among other initiatives, Book Sense, BookSense.com., and ABA’s ongoing advocacy efforts.

Reviewing the highlights of the 2001 audited financial report, Domnitz noted that the association had total revenues of over $8.1 million and expenses of $19.9 million -- including legal expenses and Book Sense development costs -- and current net assets of over $20 million. (Approximately $3.5 million of the "expenses" represent unrealized investment portfolio losses in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks, which have been recouped.) "ABA is in good financial health," Domnitz said, and, looking ahead, he noted that it was expected that the Book Sense marketing program would break even in the current fiscal year and that the BookSense.com marketing program would continue to build the product’s user base of independent bookstores.

During his report, Domnitz fielded questions from ABA members, including inquiries regarding the LIBRIS insurance program. In addition, he updated members on the sale of ABA’s equity stake in PUBNET to Bowker. The sale will recoup ABA’s investment and produce future income, he noted.

As part of his report, Domnitz reviewed the implementation of the Strategic Plan, citing examples and programs in which ABA is working to meet the association’s goals. "We take the plan very seriously," Domnitz told BTW following the meeting, "and use it as a work plan to guide all the activities of the association."

For a full review of the ongoing Strategic Plan implementation, and the full contents of the ABA Annual Report, click here.