Though I stepped down as CEO at the end of October, ABA has kindly given me a final opportunity to communicate with my friends in the bookselling community through Bookselling This Week.
First, I want to express my enormous appreciation for all the extraordinary events as I traveled around the country (and world!) this past fall. From Spartanburg, South Carolina, to Portland, Oregon; from Birmingham, England, to Los Angeles, California; from Providence, Rhode Island, to San Francisco, California; from Cleveland, Ohio, to Denver, Colorado, and to Frankfurt, Germany, I was — in a word — overwhelmed. It meant a great deal to see so many of you one last time in my official ABA capacity. I thank you for the kind words, for the wonderful presents, and, most of all, for all the years of friendship. (And I want to express my special appreciation to my friends at NAIBA, who so generously presented me with their Lifetime Achievement Award, and thank them for their gracious understanding that I could not be present in person to accept.)
As I look back on my 30-plus years at ABA, I take much pride in what we accomplished together. To say the least, while our business has changed radically, I continue to believe that the ability of both indie bookstores and ABA to adapt and reinvent ourselves has been at the core of how we’ve weathered the storms we’ve faced. And while I never underestimate the ongoing challenges before us, indie bookselling is stronger today than it’s been. And that’s because of all of you.
Business is cyclical, and while it’s almost inevitable that the growth in the indie bookselling community will slow down in the immediate future, I have enormous confidence that in the long-term our channel will expand and prosper. I believe that the localism movement in America will strengthen, that access to technology will expand, that our publisher and distribution partners will continue to recognize the indispensable role we play in the book ecosystem, and that competition authorities in the U.S. and abroad will increasingly come to understand that the current — and growing — massive concentration of market share and power in a single company not only stifles competition but is harmful for consumers.
I believe ABA is well-positioned to help booksellers address our challenges. The Board, under the able leadership of Jamie Fiocco of Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, is hard at work on your behalf. ABA has been most fortunate to have had a superb group of volunteer leaders come forth over time, and it’s been a high honor for me to have worked with all who have served on the ABA Board. In addition to Jamie, I want to particularly acknowledge the ABA Presidents with whom I’ve worked: Gail See, Rhett Jackson, Ed Morrow, Joyce Meskis, Chuck Robinson, Barbara Bonds Thomas, Richard Howorth, Neal Coonerty, Ann Christophersen, Mitchell Kaplan, Russ Lawrence, Gayle Shanks, Michael Tucker, Becky Anderson, Steve Bercu, Betsy Burton, and Robert Sindelar. You all represent a dream team of innovative and dedicated leaders.
As I’ve said before, ABA has been blessed with the best trade association staff ever assembled. My colleagues — past and present — have consistently punched well above their weight. I want to acknowledge some of my former colleagues: Avin Mark Domnitz, Ellie Chang, Carl Lennertz, Mark Nichols, Meg Smith, Matt Supko, Paige Poe, Scott McKinstry, Neil Strandberg, Chris Finan, Rosemary Hawkins, Robyn DesHotel, Jamie Rogers Southern, Kristen Gilligan, and Len Vlahos, and, of course, the current senior management team: Jill Perlstein, Sydney Jarrard, Matt Zoni, Phil Davies, Greg Galloway, David Grogan, Daniel O’Brien, Geetha Nathan, PK Sindwani, Dan Cullen, and Joy Dallanegra-Sanger. I have the highest esteem for each and every one of them.
I, of course, also want to again express my heartiest congratulations to ABA’s incoming CEO, Allison Hill, and to our newly promoted Chief Operating Officer, Joy Dallanegra-Sanger, and, to extend my very best wishes for their success. I have every confidence that ABA’s new leadership team of Allison and Joy will reach new heights.
Finally, I was honored — and humbled — by the very special recognition I received last week at the National Book Awards. To have been introduced by Ann Patchett made it even more extraordinary. As I said then, I’m grateful for the partnership that’s been created with our publishing and distribution colleagues. While we may not have always agreed on everything — and while much remains to be done to create a bona fide 21st-century model for our business — we’ve made progress that I trust will continue.
But, most importantly, I want to reiterate to my indie bookselling friends that working on your behalf these past 30-plus years has been a dream job. I’ve never ever not wanted to go to work. Your creativity, ingenuity, and resilience is nothing less than remarkable. And, while the National Book Foundation singled me out for their Literarian Award, l accepted it on behalf of all of you, who every day — thousands of times — perform that special act of magic of placing the right book in a reader’s hands. That simple act — whether it entertains, teaches, or inspires — makes the world a far better place. And to have been associated with that magic has been the highlight of my professional life. In my comments at the awards ceremony I related that I was asked recently what about my job at ABA I liked the most, and I knew the answer almost immediately. I responded by saying that my years at ABA have provided me with a friend in every village, town, and city in America, let alone around the world. In the words of the poet W.B. Yeats, “Think where man’s glory most begins and ends; and, say my glory was I had such friends.”
I know I’ll have one more opportunity to express my gratitude at the upcoming Winter Institute in January in Baltimore, and I’ll look forward to seeing many of you there. Until then, thank you for all you do to keep the indie bookstore flag flying, and, most importantly, for your support and friendship. I will cherish that forever.
All my best wishes for a successful and profitable holiday selling season. You know that I’ll be rooting for you!