A Letter From ABA’s CEO: New Business Models and More

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Dear ABA Member Bookseller:

In what I know is an increasingly busy season, as part of our effort to communicate more effectively with ABA membership I want to share an update that includes information on a critically important activity that your association is working on. (As we hope you have noticed, ABA President Becky Anderson and I are alternating monthly letters in BTW to the membership on our activities.)

Like many of you, we at ABA have been traveling to the fall regional shows. At each of the nine shows, ABA Board members and staff have been meeting and talking with booksellers and presenting educational sessions as part of the regional association’s trade show programming. We’ve been particularly pleased to have presented sessions with the Small Business Administration (SBA) on accessing capital, as well as providing updates on our efforts with regard to children’s bookselling following the merger with ABC last year. Over the course of the fall trade show season, we have the chance to talk directly with hundreds of our members, and it’s a very important opportunity for us to listen, hear from you about key issues, and get insightful feedback about ABA and our industry.

There is one association initiative that I would like to especially focus on in this letter: our work in highlighting the importance of new business models for our industry.

Since last year, ABA has been focusing on what I believe is one of our industry’s most important challenges: working with our publishing colleagues to encourage the formulation of creative new industry business models that will help us fashion a sustainable bookselling business for the 21st century.

The fact of the matter is that, for the most part, as an industry we have continued to operate using a business model that has gone largely unchanged in 60 years. While we still very much want to read and handsell our favorite titles from the past, clearly, we no longer have the luxury to continue employing business models that no longer meet the challenges of a radically different social, technological, and business environment. As I hardly need to tell you, bookselling is a vastly different business today than it once was, and, as an industry, I think it is fair to say that we’ve been slow to adapt to our rapidly changing world. 

ABA has reached out to publishers of all sizes to educate them on the importance of independent booksellers to their businesses and to ask the publishers to create new ways of doing business that recognize the importance of our business sector as both a sales channel and a unique — and essential — catalyst to sales in other channels as well. ABA’s outreach has focused on asking publishers to individually identify and test their own innovative ideas that might eventually benefit all stakeholders in our industry.

Many publishers have responded to our outreach, and several have individually identified new initiatives. These publishers have then selected indie bookstores in which to test the new ideas in order to gain the experience and data necessary to determine which of the various new business innovations deliver the critical result of helping bookstores sell a larger number of a broad spectrum of publishers’ titles.

While it’s not appropriate to report specifically about which publishers and booksellers are participating in which tests, I can say that the publishers’ tests involve a range of intriguing new ideas. Included among the publishers’ ideas are consignment arrangements, extended dating for invoices, publisher rebates for sales of selected titles, trading co-op in return for title placement in stores or a broader representation of inventory, focused category promotion, new ways of bundling e-books and print books, and more.

As a trade association, ABA cannot negotiate terms on behalf of our members, but we are working very hard to encourage our publishing colleagues to be innovative and creative in looking at new ways to conduct their businesses. ABA firmly believes that it is critical for our industry to be open to the creative and sound business innovations necessary for any industry to survive and thrive in the 21st century — and that the time for fundamental structural changes in the way we do business has arrived.

What is very clear is that publishers are beginning to understand both that indie bookstores are responsible for sales well beyond the walls of our stores and that maintaining the showrooms that we operate is indispensable to a healthy book business.

As publishers experiment with new business models in these tests, it’s imperative that both booksellers and publishers demonstrate a clear commitment to taking out a clean sheet of paper and asking ourselves: If we were to design business models that would give our industry the best possible opportunities for success today, what would they look like? And while there are legal limitations as to what ABA as a trade association can do in its communications with publishers, individual booksellers in one-on-one discussions with publishers can certainly share their thoughts regarding what industry changes they believe would better serve the common goal we all have in selling more books.

We are very pleased and grateful that so many publishers have stepped forward with the will and vision to experiment, and are pleased, too, that booksellers have taken on the work of participating in these tests. But, by its very nature, for the publishers and their selected booksellers to ascertain if any of these new models make a difference, the process will require a reasonable period of time to run its course.

We are hoping this will be both an ongoing process and one that will continue to grow to include more publishers and booksellers.

Importantly, all participants recognize that in our industry — in which every title we sell is unique — no one initiative will provide a single solution. For these new models to work, they must respect the common ground and goals we share as well as respond intelligently to the many opportunities before us.

In the weeks and months ahead, I very much encourage and invite other publishing colleagues to develop tests of their own. ABA stands ready to be as helpful and supportive as we can. 

While we’ve been operating under our existing business model for a long time, we are working as fast as we can to encourage individual publishers and individual booksellers to fashion a new business framework for the 21st century. I share the frustration that these efforts invariably take more time than any of us would like, but you have ABA’s firm commitment that we’ll continue to work away at this as diligently as we know how. We understand how critically important it is for all of you.

If your regional show has not yet taken place this fall, I do hope that you will stop by the ABA booth. We’d love to catch up and share some updates about ABA programs and initiatives and hear from you.

Warm regards,


Oren Teicher, CEO
American Booksellers Association