Changing the Game

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ABA recently completed our annual publisher meetings. The subtext of every topic discussed was how to ensure the sustainability of independent bookselling. Implicit in that subtext is the goal of a liveable wage for booksellers and bookstore owners.

It was obvious in our meetings that the publishers know the value of independent bookstores. And after a year when national accounts were down but the indies were up, they were eager to talk with us about how to optimize opportunities and how to remove obstacles for the indie channel.


Highlights of the opportunities we discussed included:

  • Supporting school business for indies through simplified terms, bookfair-ready lists and collections, reusable spinners, and better discounts, including applying B2B terms to all school-related orders regardless of use.
  • Publishing more books in Spanish.
  • Participating in Edelweiss360’s Collaborative Consumer Marketing. (This tool allows bookstores to promote titles to targeted customers via email, track conversion to sales, and receive marketing money from the publishers and provides publishers with a robust and trackable marketing tool.)
  • Recognizing the opportunity presented by offering indies better discounts. We shared a case study of a publisher that continues to extend their pandemic promotional discount for indies because they’re seeing a correlation between the extra points and the significant increase they’re seeing in their indie business.

Removing Obstacles

We also identified obstacles and discussed how to address them. ABA asks included:

  • Keeping the ABA Book Buyer’s Handbook current with their terms and promotions and adding information to a school sales resource section.
  • Signing up for Batch — The more publishers and booksellers who sign up, the more efficient the bookselling ecosystem becomes.
  • Streamlining terms — No individual title promos to track, no 3-month backlist offers that expire only to resurface a couple of months later, no codes, just offer better discounts and free up bookseller time for handselling and marketing to sell more books.
  • Fighting the good fight to protect the right to read and protect diverse authors. Concerns discussed ranged from the chilling effect on children’s book sales and how bans are preventing access to books for children who need them, to concern that the continuation of the politicizing of books as tools to incite constituents could be the end of the industry. Regardless of viewpoint, it was clear in the conversations that the publishers are in this fight. Their work, like ABA’s, may not always be visible due to necessity, strategy, or simply bandwidth. But make no mistake: Publishers care deeply about the threat being presented right now and they’re investing time, money, resources, and creativity into fighting the fight alongside us.
  • And again, better terms!


There was also one topic that is both one of our industry’s greatest weaknesses and greatest opportunities — diversity. The results of ABA’s third annual member survey about publishers showed some improvement in publisher scores when it came to diversity initiatives and diversity of their lists, but we have a long way to go when it comes to staff representation in many cases, as the lack of diversity on these calls reminded all of us.

The 4 Biggest Takeaways from the Publisher Meetings, or what independent bookstores can do right now that will help them be more sustainable:

1.  Report your sales. Only 800 independent bookstores report their sales to BookScan through the various mechanisms ABA has provided. Time, training, staffing, and even remembering week to week can all be obstacles to reporting, but sales reporting is critical. It’s the way our “voice” as a channel can be heard. It’s how we demonstrate our ability to “make” a book. It’s how we demonstrate our support of the authors we love. It’s how we ensure that the publishers continue to send authors to indie stores. This small investment can yield big results for the channel. Check out the Bestseller Reporting page on BookWeb or email [email protected] for help getting started.

2.  Sign up for Batch. This electronic invoicing system is free for booksellers. Every bookstore and every publisher in the UK uses it, making the entire ecosystem more efficient as invoices are standardized and paperless. To achieve this in the U.S., we need more bookstores to sign up so that more publishers will sign up. Sign up now to at least make the commitment and help us move this initiative to save bookstores and publishers time and money forward. To get started or to request more information, fill out our contact form or email Nathan Halter ([email protected]).

3.  Sign up for free for Edelweiss Analytics — Basecamp Tier. Imagine a world with better publisher discounts. Imagine a world where publishers don’t run out of bestsellers during the holidays. If every independent bookstore uses Edelweiss Analytics, a simple software setup that will allow publishers to see our collective sales data, that world would be within reach. The publishers need indie channel data. We have a tool to give them what they need. And although there are many reasons why a store might not be participating, there’s a lot at stake when you don’t. You already use Edelweiss for publisher catalogs. Now get signed up for a subscription to Edelweiss Analytics — Basecamp tier. Your first year is FREE giving you time to discover the possibilities before making an investment. Deidre Dumpson, Director of Client Success, is a former bookseller who speaks our language, is committed to supporting indie bookstores, and is skilled at walking you through everything to get you started. Contact [email protected] with any questions. ABA is also happy to help in any way we can.

4.  Break up Amazon. Though it wasn’t discussed, another subtext of every conversation is the stranglehold that Amazon has on our industry. Make no mistake, it is hurting your business. And ABA is working on it. You can help by telling us your Amazon stories. Recently a store shared this story: Amazon approached the store to do deliveries for them in their own car. Amazon is taking advantage of the small businesses that their anticompetitive behavior has made vulnerable and using them to further its own self interest, specifically solving its labor shortage challenge and its slow distribution challenges in more rural areas. The plan, according to the salesperson who made the offer, is to promote this as another way Amazon is helping small businesses. To us it’s indicative of a monopoly and the kind of example that’s helpful to our ongoing battle.

ABA meets with publishers weekly, but these official annual meetings when ABA’s COO, Joy Dallanegra-Sanger, and I, along with members of the ABA Board meet with over 100 people from 20 different publishers, plus Ingram and the Independent Publishers Caucus, are critical to our advocacy work on behalf of members. The meeting agendas are informed by our conversations with all of you — conversations at Community Forums, Open Houses, regional events and annual meetings, and Institutes — as well as the annual member survey about publishers that we send out prior to the annual meetings. Thank you to those who participated and shared their concerns, questions, and ideas with us. We hope you continue to do so by emailing us at [email protected] or attending an open house.

This year’s meeting were validation that these meetings have an impact. Several publishers mentioned initiatives or changes — ranging from additional discounts and no longer selling preorders, to growing school business resources, creating new store initiatives, and streamlining communication — that were inspired by our meetings last year. Now that we’ve completed this year’s meetings, ABA will be circling back to publishers to share information and clarify asks with the hope of providing more “inspiration.” 

—Allison Hill, ABA CEO