IndieCommerce Institute Participants Find Plenty to Put Into Action

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Representatives from Kobo and Ingram address booksellers at the ICI's opening plenary.

On Thursday, September 13, 65 booksellers convened in White Plains, New York, for the American Booksellers Association’s second IndieCommerce Institute (ICI), which opened with a reception the evening before. Thursday’s full day of programming included an opening plenary and three breakout sessions focusing on a number of issues and topics, and an advanced workshop for highly experienced IndieCommerce users. In addition, booksellers had the opportunity to sign up for a one-on-one training session with an IndieCommerce staff member on the days before and after the ICI.

ABA CEO Oren Teicher welcomed the group and  assured them that as the industry continues to evolve, “providing educational opportunities like this remains the number-one priority of the American Booksellers Association.” Regarding the Kobo/ABA agreement, Teicher said, “In seeking a new e-book solution, ABA’s view has been — knowing that some of your best customers some of the time are reading digitally — we needed to provide a solution that allowed independent bookstores to stay in the game by selling both content and devices. But, from the outset, we’ve consistently said that we know that the lion’s share of what you do will be to sell physical print books. This partnership is not designed to change that, nor do any of us believe it should. This new partnership is designed to help stores retain customers, so that they will continue to come into our stores, attend our events, and buy print books from us.”

The opening plenary, featuring representatives from Kobo and Ingram, provided booksellers with details about the Kobo product that will be available to them through the ABA/Kobo partnership, as well as information about Ingram’s role as the exclusive distributor of Kobo eReaders to ABA member bookstores and the launch incentive that creates a very low-risk opportunity to feature Kobo devices during the critical holiday season.

Todd Humphrey, vice president for business development at Kobo, formally introducedKobo and offered his company’s thoughts on what the ABA/Kobo partnership means for independent booksellers.

Kobo’s slogan, “read more freely,” is more than just a slogan, said Humphrey. “It’s a corporate philosophy in perfect sync with what we do.” That is to say, Kobo is committed “to help more people read more often,” he said.

Representatives from Kobo, Ingram, and ABA share a laugh at the ICI's opening plenary.

“We are a book company,” he continued. “We understand that there is a paradigm shift in your industry. We are not here to convert every one of your customers to read on [a device]. We understand that the majority of your customers will remain in physical books, and that to us is a good thing. What we know, from partnering with other bookstores, is that customers ask about how they can get digital. We hope to foster that for you.”

Humphrey also stressed to booksellers that when selling e-books, it is important to look at the whole package. While the margin on the content itself is smaller than that of physical books, there are other products to consider, such as the hardware and accessories.

The breakdown of the partnership between Kobo and the bookstore is equal, said Humphrey.

“We’ve structured a partnership that is true. We want you to be as engaged with us as possible. The intent is for you to retain your customers and do so with our help.”

Ron Smithson, director of sales at Ingram, spoke to booksellers about fulfillment and answered questions about distribution.

“I think it’s important for you to be able to deliver content to your customers in whatever format they want, so we hope this program makes it easier for you to be able to do that,” said Smithson.

Suzanna Hermans, co-owner of Oblong Books and Music in Millerton and Rhinebeck, New York, was pleased with what she learned at the ICI. The full-day session, she explained, “covered a little of everything and was extremely helpful.” At her one-on-one session with an IndieCommerce staff member, she learned how to preview her site with different themes.“They also addressed my laundry list of small questions that had been mystifying me for years,”Hermans said.

In the past week, she has already implemented some of the things she learned. “I adjusted our shipping options, and I think we’re going to save a lot of money on orders fulfilled by Ingram now that I realized how to optimize our shipping fees,” Hermans said. “Also, one of the best (and most lucrative) features on our website is the ability to easily pre-order signed books from our upcoming authors, and the ICI reinforced the importance of my focus on that…. And, I took info that had been on six different pages and made it all one page. Such an improvement!”

The chance to hear directly from a member of the Kobo staff was also helpful, Hermans said.“I was very impressed. It made me feel better about my trepidation about selling e-readers in our stores. The Kobo people really seem to have a common goal with booksellers: encourage reading and literacy in any format.”

Kirsten Hess, new business manager at R.J. Julia Booksellers, in Madison, Connecticut, attended the advanced workshop and has also made modifications to the store’s site based on what was learned.

“Our customers are living in a fast-pasted, technology savvy world. It is imperative we have tools that allow them to purchase quickly and easily in order to retain their loyalty,” she said.