On California Minds: E-Fairness, Localism, BookSense.com

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version

On Monday, March 10, and Wednesday, March 12, the American Booksellers Association held Booksellers Forum programs in conjunction with the Southern California Independent Booksellers Association (SCIBA) and the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association (NCIBA), respectively. ABA staff at each included ABA CEO Avin Mark Domnitz, COO Oren Teicher, Chief Program Officer Len Vlahos, and Chief Marketing Officer Meg Smith. Both programs also featured ABA's "Booksellers at the Tipping Point: Leveraging Localism and Independence to Promote Your Store," which covered the issues of localism, independence, and sustainability.

Los Angeles

Held at the 2008 Hotel ABA, the Renaissance Hollywood, the March 10 program featuring both ABA and SCIBA sessions was attended by more than 65 booksellers.

"The day was terrific!" said SCIBA Executive Director Jennifer Bigelow. "I am very pleased by the attendance.... Booksellers came from as far North as Ojai, east as Bakersfield, south as San Diego. It was the strongest turnout for us for a Forum/Spring meeting. SCIBA's 'Martinis for the Mind' was very well received as well -- great questions and answers regarding POS ... and the distributors did a good overview of their company's services."

The day began with ABA's "Booksellers at the Tipping Point: Leveraging Localism and Independence to Promote Your Store." Monica Carter of Skylight Books in Los Angeles said the session offered practical steps for working with other area independent businesses to raise their profile in the community. "I was also impressed with the digital media kit, as well as the hard copy, that shows the steps we need to take."

Of SCIBA's "Tools to Do Business Better," Andrea Vuleta of Mrs. Nelson's Toy & Book Shop in La Verne noted, "Several stores presented their inventory systems' pros and cons. We're looking to update our POS/Inventory system, so that portion was very helpful. Wholesalers also presented information on their systems, which was really a plus."

ABA's Vlahos, Teicher and Domnitz with booksellers at the Los Angeles Forum.

Following the education sessions, ABA's Domnitz, Teicher, Vlahos, and Smith facilitated the Booksellers Forum, where, in addition to being able to voice concerns, booksellers heard about some of the association's newest initiatives. Issues addressed at the forum included e-fairness, BookSense.com websites, and communications with customers.

Several booksellers brought up the functionality of the BookSense.com website, said Carter. "We talked about the BookSense.com templates and how they're not that user-friendly. I'm happy to hear that's something ABA is working on." Other items of interest were ways to facilitate customer communication via the web and making bookseller book reviews more readily available.

Of particular interest to Charles Day of Book Soup in West Hollywood was the discussion of plans currently in the works for creating a more compelling online marketplace that takes advantage of open source software. Day also mentioned that ensuring the equitable collection of sales tax on online purchases was an issue that concerned a number of booksellers at the forum.

The day's events concluded with "Martinis for the Mind: SCIBA Annual Meeting, Reception, and Reps Picks," which included a talk by L.A. Times editor David Ulin and a look forward to BookExpo America, while booksellers sipped martinis and nibbled on mashed potatoes with toppings served in a martini glass. "It was fantastic," said Carter. "David Ulin talked about reader demographics in terms of web and hard copy use and how to utilize each format best. It was very interesting to consider how to appeal to our customer base based on their marketing strategies."

San Francisco

The March 12 Booksellers Forum program was held at the offices of San Francisco's Books Inc., owned by ABA Board member Michael Tucker. Approximately 45 booksellers participated in the day's two events: "Booksellers at the Tipping Point" and the Booksellers Forum discussions.

The programming was "quite good," said NCIBA Executive Director Hut Landon. "NCIBA continues to be appreciative of ABA's efforts to communicate directly with its members with these forums. We recognize that it's a huge time commitment and travel commitment, but think that this communication has lot of value to booksellers in all of the regions."

Amy Thomas of Pegasus and Pendragon Books in Berkeley considered the time well spent, particularly "Booksellers at the Tipping Point," led by Vlahos. "I was quite taken with Len's insight about consumer shift," she said, referring to a change in customer focus to localism. "It seems people now want something different. They want to buy local, and [independent booksellers] can be part of that revolution."

Following "Booksellers at the Tipping Point," Domnitz, Teicher, Vlahos, Smith, and Tucker facilitated the Booksellers Forum, where Thomas said she observed a distinctly positive overall attitude. "I noticed that conversations among booksellers were filled with energy and activity," she said. "There wasn't any gloom and doom and bitching. It seemed like there was a lot of forward thinking...."

Brad Jones of BookSmart in Morgan Hill reported that the forum included a discussion of e-fairness. "It's an extremely important topic, especially when the community has difficulty paying school taxes and a giant corporation is allowed to skirt collecting sales tax from customers," he explained.

Jones also noted that forum participants brainstormed on e-newsletter technology, as well as in-store events, and ABA staff discussed the new national program for all of its bookstore members to be unveiled at BookExpo America in Los Angeles this spring. "I'm excited to see that," he added.

Jones echoed other booksellers who spoke with BTW when he said, "It's always inspiring to be around other booksellers and hear what's going on in the rest of the country. The hosts [Books Inc.] were wonderful. It was a great day. [ABA] got us filled up with great information and then got us on our way." --Karen Schechner