In the culmination of a process that has taken nearly two years, this October the voting members of the Association of Booksellers for Children cast ballots in favor of a merger with the American Booksellers Association at a rate of more than 4-to-1.
One hundred and fifty-seven ABC member stores that were eligible to vote received a ballot mailing at the beginning of October, which included a Letter of Agreement between the two Boards covering governance and plan generated by the staff of the two organizations covering programming. One hundred and twenty-seven ballots were returned with 105 stores voting in favor of the merger (82 percent), and 23 stores opposed (18 percent). This represented a 67 percent majority of ABC’s eligible stores.
“I’m very proud of the stores of the ABC,” said Executive Director Kristen McLean. “This vote was much larger than the issue of who will administer ABC’s programming. We are in a time of unprecedented industry evolution, and I believe the independent booksellers of the ABC are sending a message that they can also evolve to meet the demands of the changing industry positively. I’m very excited that many more stores will have access to the expertise of ABC, and that children’s issues will continue to be an important part of the ongoing dialogue that ABA is cultivating at the national level.”
The merger comes at a time when children’s books are playing an increasingly important role in the bottom line of many bookstores as they try and hedge against uncertainty in the marketplace. “Children’s bookselling continues to be one of the vital bright spots in a struggling industry, and we are delighted to share our collective knowledge and expertise with all of our colleagues at the ABA,” said ABC President Elizabeth Bluemle, of The Flying Pig Bookstore in Shelburne, Vermont. “After such a long process, it will be wonderful to see new programming and resources evolve and, we hope, reach a broader membership.”
The merger also reflects the trend toward consolidation at all levels of the industry as the traditional model streamlines in the face of changes in consumer behavior, technology, and distribution. “The merger of ABC and ABA comes at a time when all independent booksellers need to unite their resources, passion, and expertise to build for our future,” said Becky Anderson, vice president of ABA, past president of ABC, and co-owner of Anderson’s Bookshop in Naperville, Illinois. “Children’s issues are a huge part of this future for all stores. Kudos to the ABC membership for putting your voices to an important step. Together we can take independent children’s bookselling to new heights and continued growth.”
“Recognizing the rich history and many accomplishments of the Association of Booksellers for Children, coupled with all the enormous changes taking place in retail bookselling, we at ABA see this vote in favor of the merger of our two organizations as an opportunity to be able to accomplish more to serve the present and future needs of children’s booksellers,” said ABA CEO Oren Teicher. “We know that some struggled with the wisdom of our joining forces but we are confident that building on the thoughtful planning that led to the final vote, children’s booksellers will continue to have the resources and support necessary to grow and prosper.”
In line with steps outlined in the Letter of Agreement in May, the ABA Board recently amended the association’s Ends Policies to include the following language: “Members will have access to programs specifically aimed at growing and expanding the reach of children’s books to a wide audience of both consumers and booksellers and would include such things as communication vehicles, appropriate awards, and educational programs.”
Both organizations are forming transitional committees to oversee the merger process. Bookseller members of both organizations can expect to see the option for à la carte membership in the newly formed ABC Children’s Group at their next ABA renewal cycle. Stores that are not currently ABA members will be offered a trial membership for the same cost as their previous ABC membership. Other constituencies at ABC will be handled under the terms of the merger plan. All of ABC’s current services will be maintained.
To ensure a smooth transition, and to give ABA a chance to review its staffing and appoint a primary contact for the newly formed ABC Children’s Group, ABC’s current executive director, Kristen McLean, will work with ABA on a consulting basis throughout the first cycle to make sure there are no breaks in programming or services.
“I think this is an important milestone,” said ABC Vice President Valerie Koehler. “I’m excited that the bookstore members of both organizations will be supported and strengthened by ABA’s commitment to children’s bookselling. This is going to be great for everyone.”
ABC spun out of the larger ABA in 1984, when its founding members decided to create a separate association to concentrate specifically on children’s issues. At the height of its enrollment in the early ’90s, ABC counted 600 children’s stores as members. In 2008, ABC’s recent membership peaked at 250 stores, split evenly between children’s-only and general bookstores. The two associations have worked cordially together over the years, and have maintained a high degree of membership overlap, which today exceeds 95 percent.