A Letter From ABA’s President: Bookselling in the Southern Hemisphere & More

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Dear Fellow Booksellers:

This summer I was honored to be invited to represent ABA at both the Booksellers New Zealand and Australian Booksellers Association annual conferences. It was a wonderful trip that just reinforced for me how many of the same challenges and experiences we booksellers all share. I thought I’d use this, my second bimonthly update to members, to share some of those experiences with you, but before I do that, I’d like to fill you in on some of the things ABA is busy working on as we prepare for the holiday season.

The regional trade shows begin this month, and ABA will be at each to meet with booksellers and to present educational programming, including a special session in conjunction with the U.S. Small Business Administration that will explain how our businesses can take advantage of SBA’s services and have the best chance possible of securing loans and lines of credit. I hope you’ll join us for what’s sure to be an informative presentation by an SBA representative.  ABA is also busy experimenting with e-book promotions [see this week’s story on Algonquin’s bundling promotion for When She Woke];  working to launch significant improvements to IndieCommerce sites in advance of the holidays, as well as an IndieBound eReading app;  continuing to work with publishers to develop new business models; and putting the finishing touches on a stellar program for Winter Institute 7 that will create even more opportunities for bookseller-to-bookseller interactions and more of a hands-on approach to learning. Registration for the Winter Institute will open next Thursday and is expected to fill up fast, so I would encourage those of you who want to attend to register as soon as possible. New Orleans is shaping up to be our best host city yet.

Independent booksellers are the most generous and sharing group of trade professionals I know, and this totally goes for our friends and colleagues in New Zealand and Australia.  The theme at this summer’s New Zealand conference was “Renewal:  Life Begins at 90!” celebrating the conference’s 90 years but also keeping booksellers from Christchurch in mind after this year’s devastating earthquakes.  Many of their topics had to do with the economy, digitization, and new models.

Australia’s conference title was “Through the Looking Glass,” and the program looked at the significant changes that had taken place over the last 12 months.  Digitalization, social media, e-commerce, POD, and non-book were just a few of their educational session topics.

One of the most exciting things for me to see was the passionate, excited, and engaged response to the launch of IndieBound in both countries.  The program was launched at both conferences to great fanfare, and many stores have signed on to building local healthy communities through local independent business alliances.  I really loved New Zealand’s Maori version of the “Eat, Sleep, Read” poster!

Going local—building community is essential for survival and growth. I spoke about how local movements in my community and that of other ABA members have been a huge plus for all of us.

I also was impressed with Australia’s National Bookshop Day, which was held for the first time on August 20, and I think this is something we could possibly model here in the states.

I enjoyed every moment of each conference and came away with so much fodder for thought and action.

During my speeches at both conferences and at the sessions where I was a panelist, I was amazed at the number of heads nodding in agreement regarding some of the issues that face independent bookselling in all three of our countries. 

  1.  The closing and liquidation of Borders here and that of the REDGroup both in New Zealand and Australia have changed the face of bricks–and-mortar bookselling for all of us.  The REDGroup had control over Whitcoulls booksellers, around in various forms since the 1880s, and Australia’s Angus & Robertson, as well as Borders stores in New Zealand and in Australia since 2008. How do we take advantage of this changing landscape? 
  2. Worldwide economic turmoil and an uncertain climate for any kind of growth has been a constant for all of us. 
  3. Competition from other online competitors that offer large discounts, free shipping, and below cost pricing. The Book Depository, an online bookseller out of the U.K., has been a fierce competitor for both countries, and now it has been purchased by Amazon.com. 
  4. Pricing: Books in both countries are priced higher than here in the states.  Minimum wage is twice that of the highest in any of our states.  Set Pricing and Minimum Retail Pricing are beginning to be discussued both here and there. 
  5. VAT (Value Added Tax) and Internet sales tax are huge issues.  Leveling the playing field for bricks-and mortar stores is essential. No VAT is collected on Book Depository sales coming into New Zealand and Australia on books shipped directly to the consumer.
  6. E-books and the digital world: They’re here to stay, and we are trying to analyze and to respond to the changes in the market.  NZ and Australia are newer to the game of e-books and are trying to figure out which wave to catch.  How to deliver the content, what device, and what prices to sell.

I visited more than 25 stores in both New Zealand and Australia and felt so at home in all of them.  They are places like ours—places of great literature—places of knowledgeable and passionate booksellers, shops where the owners are engaged in their communities and their industry.  I thank them so much for giving of their time to talk with me and give me a tour of their brilliant shops. To name just a few: In New Zealand — Unity Books in Wellington – Tilly Lloyd; Capital Books in Wellington – Tim Skinner; Parsons Books and Music in Wellington; Wright’s Bookshop in Cambridge – Hamish Wright.  In Australia:  Readings in Melbourne – Mark Rubbo; Books for Cooks in Fitzroy – Tim White; Hill of Content Bookshop in Melbourne; Little Book Room in Melbourne; Shearer’s Bookshop in Sydney – Barbara Shearer; Pages & Pages Booksellers in Mosman – Jon Page; Better Read Than Dead in Newtown – Derek Dryden;  Gleebooks in Glebe – David Gaunt; and Abbey’s Bookshops in Sydney  – Alan Abbey.

We have so much in common with our colleagues in NZ and Australia, and all of us hope that ABA’s relationships with both Booksellers New Zealand and the Australian Booksellers Association continue to grow — with a sharing of best practices and working together to maneuver the ever-changing world of bookselling.  We are stronger together! 

Huge, huge thanks to Lincoln Gould, CEO of Booksellers New Zealand, for all of his time, support, generosity, and tours of some great bookstores. Thanks to all of the staff at Booksellers NZ. 

To Hamish Wright, president of Booksellers New Zealand, thanks for everything — and especially for the tour of your in-laws’ 5,000-acre sheep and cattle farm. It was one of the highlights for me and for Hallie, my 16-year-old daughter, of our entire trip.

To Joel Becker, CEO of the Australian Booksellers Association, many, many thanks for being our tour guide for so many things — not just bookshops — and for introducing us to Footy-Australian Football. We loved it! Your generosity was unbelievable.

To Jon Page, president of the Australian Booksellers Association, thanks for your welcome, your conversation, and the tour of shops in Sydney!