A Letter From ABA’s Peripatetic President

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The past month has been a busy time, full of planes and trains and automobiles. Activities included an ABA Board meeting at the end of September, followed by a dash from region to region the first 10 days of October. Taken together, the conversations and meetings I’ve had with booksellers all over the country have been a revelation in terms of association boards, of authors, and of education.

To begin at the beginning, the ABA Board met in Wichita, Kansas, in the home and store of Board member Sarah Bagby. Both are lovely, as is the community where they are located, and we did some power shopping at Sarah’s Watermark Books & Café during breaks, book addicts that we (and pretty much all booksellers) are. Last week’s issue of Bookselling This Week featured a full update on the meeting. As that report noted, IndieCommerce was a key topic for a couple of reasons: First, because with the Drupal upgrade completed, there are some big changes in the works, and, second, because two associations, the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association (NAIBA) and the New England Independent Booksellers Association (NEIBA), had written letters to the ABA Board reflecting concerns regarding IndieCommerce.

There was already a plan in the works to attend NAIBA and NEIBA, and, given the letters and the news presented at the ABA Board meeting, we arranged to meet with both boards in conjunction with the ABA Board members who belong to each association — Jonathon Welch (NAIBA) and Annie Philbrick (NEIBA). Both meetings were collegial and productive. They thanked us for coming and we thanked each board for its letter, detailed what had been accomplished or is in process in terms of IndieCommerce now that the upgrade is complete, listened to and discussed their concerns, and discussed better methods of communication going forward. We appreciated their thanks, and didn’t in the least mind being taken to task. It can be productive.

In terms of communication, perhaps the most important background issue was the endowment, the history and purpose of which CEO Oren Teicher recently addressed in BTW. Within the endowment guidelines explained in the letter, the ABA Board had recently approved the hiring of an outside technology expert, Lullabot, and funding for a new IndieCommerce director as well as the Drupal upgrade — this comes along with improved communication in the form of the IndieCommerce newsletter, recently launched IndieCommerce webinars, online support materials, and ongoing education. Last week’s issue of BTW had a great summary of the many IndieCommerce improvements that have followed the completion of the Drupal 7 upgrade, and what’s upcoming in October and November. And, in case you missed it, BTW recently had an informative piece from Oren about the origins and history of IndieCommerce.

We also talked about books and ABA book programs, pointing out the obvious (to us), that, far from being just a product, the book is the beating heart of our world. That it is our passion for and knowledge of books, our ability to curate them like no one else, and not only show them to the world but tell the world about them that sets us apart from our competitors. ABA programs — IndieBound, the Indie Next List, and Indies Introduce, which move particular books out into the world, as well as Indies First, which ties us to our communities on the one hand and on the other to both publishers and the authors of books we love — are our strength and our way out of the wilderness Amazon is trying to create. The more we support these programs, the better for us all. And for our industry.

We discussed, too, the Winter Institute coming to Denver this year, and the Institute’s first-ever Backlist Book Swap, which features something that ABA is planning to emphasize at Wi11 along with the always excellent education.

Backlist. Selling more backlist is good for us: It’s easy to stock, has low return rates since we know the books, and is wonderful for our customers, who not only rediscover all these gems we love with such passion, but also discover more about who we are. It’s also good for publishers, and, of course, for authors. I’d give anything to tell you more about a new ABA backlist initiative, but it’s not my job to launch the program here so — full disclosure — details will be coming soon.

Finally, there was a list of action items — items everyone reading this letter should pay attention to:

  • First, if you plan to take part in Indies First in conjunction with Small Business Saturday on November 28, now is the time to act. Here’s a link to the important steps you should take to fully participate in this seminal event (click “Bookseller and Author Information for Small Business Saturday 2015” on the page).

    I also strongly encourage you to review and take advantage of special offers on a wide range of frontlist and backlist titles from publishers — terrific terms on titles that you can sell not just on Small Business Saturday but all through the holidays. Remember: ABA member stores must place their orders by October 31. Special promo codes, as well as Indies First promotional materials, are available here for this crucial initiative, which gives us a way to showcase our importance to our communities and to the world of books on Small Business Saturday, when so many people are in our stores. Having authors in our stores and linking to their websites strengthens our partnership with them; the more we do this the brighter our future in a hundred ways.

  • Vote for the new Bylaw changing the number of ABA Board members from 10 to 11. It avoids tie votes and, perhaps more importantly, an extra board member gives us one more opportunity at creating diversity on the Board, something this Board has emphasized in ABA’s Ends Policies. So, action item: here’s the link where each member store can cast its vote.
  • We need more signatures on our letter to the U.S. Department of Justice. We have to level the playing field, and the DOJ offers a critically important opportunity. But we have to show wholehearted support — especially since we’re doing this in partnership with Authors United. So, action item: If you haven’t yet, ABA member stores can add their names as signatories to the ABA letter by sending an e-mail with their name, store name, city, and state to [email protected].

That’s the work part. The fun part?

At this year’s trade shows — from New Atlantic to New England to Mountains and Plains — we were dazzled by authors everywhere, laughed ourselves sick with the likes of Jon Scieszka and Jesse Eisenberg, and were wowed by, among others, Bryan Stevenson, Stacy Schiff, Emily St. John Mandel, Douglas Brinkley, and Richard Russo (when he sang a capella Bruce Springsteen’s song “Land of Hope and Dreams,” all the hearts in the room stopped beating). The education was also fantastic — great sessions on publishers’ P&Ls from Bloomsbury’s George Gibson, Workman’s Steven Pace, and Perseus’ Matty Goldberg.

Mountains and Plains had the world’s most raucous literary trivia contest (even if Utah didn’t win), and Robert Sindelar reported that “the overall mood at the PNBA show was very upbeat, and in our meeting with the PNBA Board emphasis was placed on how much they value ABA education at Winter Institute and the Kids’ Institute. They also took time to thank ABA for the scholarships it facilitates for these institutes.”

From NCIBA, DIESEL’s John Evans told us: “The floor was busy with the warmth of a family reunion (as Hut described the event in his teary farewell); ABA sent a wonderful video played at the membership meeting, which was all but taken over by Hut’s farewell; publishers seemed happy with the turnout and frontline booksellers’ avid interest in their booths; and Pete Mulvihill and Steven Pace did a great job presenting the Publisher Economics talk and with fielding questions afterward. The overarching tone was set by Hut’s unimaginable departure and the much-loved bookseller Calvin Crosby taking over the mantle after a 25-year run. Everyone’s anxiety, grief, and impending loss were expressed, released, and the whole process renewed, with magical joy and affection.”

We ABA Board members love the world we inhabit — the world of books. I knew my own part of that world but getting to know the rest is a revelation.

Betsy Burton
President, American Booksellers Association
The King’s English Bookshop
Salt Lake City, Utah