A Letter From ABA Board President Robert Sindelar

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Dear Fellow Booksellers,

Today I am writing to you about two things that I believe are very important. First, why I think you should consider attending BookExpo this year. The second is what I have been talking to publishers about and think you should, too.

Rick Simonson and Paul Yamazaki in conversation at Elliott Bay Book Company
Rick Simonson and Paul Yamazaki in conversation at Elliott Bay Book Company

I had the pleasure this week to attend a wonderful event put on by Tracy Taylor at The Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle. Tracy invited Paul Yamazaki from City Lights Booksellers in San Francisco to come to Seattle and join Rick Simonson from Elliott Bay for an in-conversation evening about indie bookselling. These two indie bookstore icons, who share between them over 80 years of bookselling knowledge, spent the evening discussing the changes they have seen in the industry, their favorite moments as booksellers, and the unique relationships they have developed with authors, editors, and other booksellers. For the younger booksellers in the room, it was an inspiring and educational evening. For me, seeing two of my bookselling mentors get a chance to slow down and talk about what matters to them the most in this business was a useful reminder about why we do what we do and how to do it well.

Throughout the evening I kept thinking about the upcoming BookExpo event in New York City. I’ve spoken to many booksellers who have said that BookExpo isn’t relevant to them anymore. But hearing Rick and Paul talk about the vital importance of their relationships with various editors over the years and how those relationships mostly began at this annual bookselling convention, I was very glad that BookExpo is taking significant steps this year to help facilitate bookseller/editor interaction. As I wrote here last summer, the editor’s hour Penguin Random House held last year was one of the best experiences I’ve had on the show floor in years. This year, BookExpo is coordinating events like this for booksellers at multiple publisher booths. Between those events and the ABA-sponsored FULL DAY of bookseller activities on Wednesday, May 30 (Meet the Editor, Publicists Speed Dating, Celebration of Bookselling Lunch, and the Adult Editor’s Buzz Panel), BookExpo’s relevance and importance to indie booksellers is back! (Remember: BookExpo registration is FREE for ABA members!)

In a couple of weeks, I will be traveling to New York City to meet with many of our publishing partners on behalf of ABA, along with ABA Vice President Jamie Fiocco (Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, North Carolina) and ABA Senior Program Officer Joy Dallanegra-Sanger and ABA CEO Oren Teicher to discuss indie bookstore/publisher relations. One of the goals of these meetings is to help publishers understand all the challenges that indie bookstores face. To this end, we will be sharing the latest ABACUS data with our publisher partners to help illustrate how initiatives like BATCH, rapid replenishment, backlist programs, etc. are important steps to helping bookstores sell more of a publisher’s books by helping the bookstore’s bottom line. While we are in New York City talking about these issues, we need you to talk to your reps about them, too.

One issue that came up with a number of publishers on these visits last year that we plan on discussing again is the issue of pre-order campaigns. Publishers recognize that there are quite a bit of pre-order transactions happening in the marketplace, but very few of them are flowing through the indie channel. Publishers want to know what indies and ABA can do about that, and indies and ABA are wondering what publishers are willing to do about it. In the first quarter of this year, we have seen a number of examples where the biggest books hitting the market have either passively or actively bypassed the indie channel in either pre-order campaigns or even their first week on sale to the public. This is a trend that is unacceptable and that must be reversed. Indies are willing to do their part, but we need our publishing partners to do theirs (kudos to Macmillan this week for their proactive communication and stock management of the James Comey book).

All these issues are about relationships. As Rick and Paul reminded me this past week, the way these relationships in the world of books continue to evolve and grow is by keeping the conversation going.

To that end, I am always eager to hear from my fellow booksellers. If you have comments, questions, or concerns about any of this or other bookselling issues related to ABA, please feel free to contact me at rsindelar@thirdplacebooks.com.

Robert Sindelar
President, American Booksellers Association
Third Place Books
Lake Forest Park and Seattle, Washington