Face Out: ABA President Jamie Fiocco on Her Life Among Books

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In the latest installment of our series profiling American Booksellers Association Board members, Bookselling This Week talks to Jamie Fiocco, the owner of Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Fiocco was elected to a two-year term at ABA president in May.

ABA President Jamie FioccoGrowing up, Jamie Fiocco was the stereotypical kid who got into trouble for reading under the covers with a flashlight after bedtime lights out. Both her parents always had a book going, and, although Jamie grew up on a series of horse farms and spent a lot of time outside, books were always a big part of her life. In fact, Jamie describes herself as a “total book geek,” who even arranged her books alphabetically by author in her bedroom bookcase. Her favorite gift every year was a gift certificate for the local independent bookstore (the former Intimate Bookshop in Chapel Hill).

In 1991, as a recent college graduate, Jamie landed a job at a local technical publisher, Ventana Press in Carrboro, North Carolina. She spent the next 15 years in publishing: working first in customer service, then marketing, and eventually primarily in international sales and distribution for a variety of technical publishers. In 2004, her good friend and fellow “horse and book nerd” Keebe Fitch, the owner of McIntyre’s Books in Pittsboro, North Carolina, convinced her to “help out for the holidays”; Jamie ended up managing the store for four years.

In late 2008, a local developer in her hometown was looking for an independent bookstore to anchor his shopping center, and while he was unable to talk any of the existing independent bookstores in the area into opening another location, he was able to talk Jamie into giving it a try. Though she knew the town needed an indie bookshop ever since the Intimate closed more than a decade earlier, Jamie said she was hoping someone else would do it! Nevertheless, in November 2009, she opened Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill and is very happy to be part of the bookselling world.

Bookselling This Week: When did you first become a member of ABA? What motivated you to join?

Jamie Fiocco: I became involved in ABA activities when I was managing McIntyre’s Books. The store had always been involved in our region and ABA, and I was immediately attracted to the friendly, competent association staff. I was thrilled to work with a trade organization that was so supportive of members and facilitated contact among booksellers all over the country.

BTW: What do you think are some of the most important changes in bookselling since you opened your store?

JF: My store is 10 years old now; we opened during the recession and the supposed demise of print books at the hands of e-books. I have great respect for the booksellers who had already weathered the issues brought about by the growth of shopping malls, chain stores, and online shopping — at least I had an idea of what I was up against! I was grateful to ABA for offering an e-book solution and for giving us talking points for our customers so we didn’t turn anyone away regardless of their reading format. 

I think also the publisher standoff with Amazon over e-book pricing was an important time in the business, raising the public’s consciousness on how the big online outfits work and how the business of publishing and bookselling is changing. I also feel that the rise of Independent Bookstore Day and Indies First/Small Business Saturday further illustrates increased public recognition of the importance of small businesses and how they positively shape communities.

In the last few years, I think ABA and the indie bookselling world has done a great job of welcoming new owners, new booksellers, and new store formats. The energy and creativity these new ABA members bring are changing not only how indie bookstores interact with their community but also how indie booksellers are informing publishers, authors, and other industry partners.

Right now, I feel we’re on the verge of another big change in bookselling. We have to figure out — with our industry partners — how to make bookstores of all types sustainable, and how to improve the quality of life as a bookseller. 

 BTW: What are your key goals as an ABA Board member for fostering the book industry, and bookselling in particular?

JF: The ABA Board with ABA staff have to figure out how to make independent bookselling an attainable, sustainable, profitable business model. We’ve started to fulfill the goal of having new and younger frontline booksellers, owners, and managers join the industry and we’ve encouraged new store prototypes, but now we need to develop and make folks aware of the tools and trading terms they need to make a better living. Rising minimum wages as well as rising occupancy costs for stores and staff are challenging our ability to make a profit even when we’re doing all the right things. I really think one of the best ways to work with our partners — specifically the publishers and distributors — is to aggregate our data through ABACUS. If we could double the number of stores reporting their financials to ABACUS, we’d not only be able to slice and dice the data in more ways (think: data on pop-up stores, micro stores and bookmobiles) but we’d be able to articulate more specifically how and where we need better trading terms.

BTW: What are you reading now?

JF: I’m currently reading The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern, and I just finished The Furious Hours by Casey Cep. On audio, I’m listening to Kira Jane Buxton’s Hollow Kingdom.  

BTW: You get a day to walk through any city, town, or landscape with any one writer. What writer and what place?

JF: OK, here’s the farm girl in me coming out now: I’d love to ride shotgun with James Herriot (aka James Alfred “Alf” Wight OBE, FRCVS) as the country veterinarian makes his rounds to all his clients’ farms in the Yorkshire countryside. When I was growing up, I loved his semi-autobiographical stories of life, death, and everything in between in All Creatures Great and Small and his many other books. A close second would be hanging out with Laura Ingalls Wilder on the prairie, but I’m under no illusions that I wouldn’t be put to work so I’m taking the easy way out here!