First Forum Brings Booksellers to Richmond

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On Monday, February 13, at the Fountain Bookstore in Richmond, Virginia, the American Booksellers Association presented a Booksellers Forum and Education Program in conjunction with the Southern Independence Booksellers Alliance (SIBA). Approximately 30 booksellers attended the event, which featured a SIBA membership session, the Booksellers Forum, and the ABA session "Creating a 'Buy Local' Campaign."

"It was great," said SIBA Executive Director Wanda Jewell. "Forums are always good way for ABA and SIBA members to express ownership of their organizations."

Kelly Justice of Fountain Bookstore, which hosted the event, said that the program was an "overwhelmingly good experience." She added, "It's a joy to know smaller, rural stores are getting much more involved in educating themselves. The atmosphere was very positive."

The program started with the SIBA Membership Session, where booksellers learned how SIBA can help market books and authors through The Spoken Word, the popular public radio series recorded at independent bookstores around the country.

ABA Director of Special Projects David Walker (substituting for ABA CEO Avin Mark Domnitz and CEO Oren Teicher who were unable to attend due to a Northeast snowstorm) facilitated the lunchtime forum, where booksellers asked questions and discussed a variety of subjects. Among them were Above the Treeline, an online software product designed to help bookstores improve finances by optimizing inventory selection, now available to ABA members through a special partnership agreement, and Batch.Co.UK, a service of the Booksellers Association of the United Kingdom and Ireland, which is designed to help booksellers reduce overhead in the supply chain by providing a single, consolidated payment solution. (The ABA Board recently met with Fraser Tanner, Batch's managing director, to explore the applicability of this approach in the U.S.)

Sarah Pishko of Prince Books in Norfolk, Virginia, reported that booksellers were curious about Above the Treeline. "I told them that I signed up for it at the Winter Institute within hours of the presentation," she said. Pishko described how useful the software program has been. Using Above the Treeline "I printed out a list of books I'd lost track of," she said. "One was Elements of Style, the old version.... And for some reason I didn't have Purity of Blood [Arturo Perez-Reverte, Putnam]. I don't why I didn't have it on order. I imagine some things just fall through."

Pishko added that during the forum she was also reminded of the availability of paperless co-op from Random House and HarperCollins.

Following the forum discussion was the "Creating a 'Buy Local' Campaign" education session. Linda Watson, executive director of Raleigh Unchained, the Raleigh Independent Business Alliance, and Nancy Olson, owner of Quail Ridge Books & Music in Raleigh, North Carolina, and a member of Raleigh Unchained, discussed launching or joining an independent business alliance and iterated the financial benefits of shopping locally. "The key figures of shopping locally are $45 stays in the community when shopping at an independent, $13 at chains, and at Internet sites, it's next to nothing," explained Watson.

Watson told BTW that she was "fabulously impressed by the enthusiasm of the crowd and their experience and intelligent comments." She noted, "I think creating local business alliances could make a huge difference to booksellers. They can be a great deal of fun and make a difference in the bottom line and the community."

Olson was also pleased with bookseller response to the "Buy Local" session. "We were happy to see people recognize the importance of this kind of consumer campaign," she said.

Olson gave high marks to the Booksellers Forum and Education Program overall. "It's a wonderful opportunity to get together. I met a lot of new people with new bookstores, which was very heartening," she said.

Justice noted that the forum filled a real need. Many booksellers in her region, she explained, want to meet with booksellers they know at a comfortable and small venue. "This way, they feel less intimidated than at large shows, which they possibly can't afford to get to anyway. The forum absolutely fulfills the charges presented to ABA and SIBA by members." --Karen Schechner