A Letter from ABA CEO Allison Hill

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Dear Booksellers,

What I lie awake at night thinking about during the pandemic:

Cryptocurrency — What’s the tipping point? When will my 21-year-old daughter offer to reimburse me in bitcoin? When will my 80-year-old mom? When will ​​Dogecoin be a tender option on a bookstore POS? If marijuana is legalized by the federal government, will pot be the new sideline? How will homeschooling, the new remote work model, or the increase in grocery delivery impact consumer shopping habits long-term? What could that mean for store foot traffic? How can we optimize the Buy Local momentum gained during the pandemic? Did the pandemic reading renaissance, reported by the National Endowment of the Arts in 2020, reverse the 25-year downward trajectory of reading in the under 65 age group in the U.S., or do I need to start worrying about that again? As demographics shift across the country (a white minority and BIPOC majority in the near future), will all of our bookstores reflect and support the communities they serve? Will ABA? (Publishing, are you ready?)

After almost two years of questions and Groundhog’s Day for many of us, in terms of circumstances or uncertainty or both, it seems we’ve finally moved forward. Welcome to the future! It looks a lot like the past.

But after this extreme and extended period of disruption (more like an interruption), what has changed? What should we be paying attention to as we plan for the future of independent bookselling? I’m reminded of a line from Marie Howe’s poem “Part of Eve’s Discussion”: “It was like the moment when a bird decides not to eat from your hand, and flies, just before it flies…” What’s about to take flight? And how can we be prepared for the ride?

The upcoming ABA winter programming is designed to prepare you for the future: Workshops that help stores support a diverse community, set DEI goals, and measure their success; a Strategic Planning session; an informational webinar on Unions; a presentation on the future of IndieCommerce;  a round table on pandemic business adaptations worth keeping; conversations with and about new models — mobile, pop-up, and nonprofits; and an opening keynote, and follow up bookseller-to-bookseller discussions, on How to Imagine the Future of Bookselling with futurist Jane McGonigal. 

And this is just the beginning. In 2022 there are Big conversations, begun over the last two years, that we want to continue: representation and equity, workers’ rights, freedom of expression, and the threat posed by Amazon. These are issues not just of bookselling but of our times, and they require and deserve our attention and continued exploration.

And we have a Big Call to Action: REPORT YOUR DATA! Professor Ryan Raffaelli’s words at Winter Institute in Baltimore are still ringing in my ears two years later — our biggest weakness as a channel is our lack of data. The good news is that some of the data is already within reach: Report your book sales/bestsellers weekly. Participate in ABACUS this spring. Sign up for the Membership Dashboard — all you need is a BookWeb login. Respond to ABA surveys. (Watch for our annual membership and financial survey in an upcoming BTW.) ABA could be doing so much more to help independent bookstores if we had your data. And we’re happy to help you with all of this in any way that we can. Please email [email protected] for assistance.

In the meantime, we’re focused on the $3M IndieCommerce upgrade that’s well underway; new legislative lobbying to leverage the current bipartisan support around our efforts to break up and/or regulate Amazon; a new partnership with General Motors to bring STEAM and fantasy children’s literature to Title One schools and nonprofits that serve young readers (watch for details in BTW to participate); helping stores fight the wave of book banning; the new Advance Access for underrepresented voices; and the roll-out of new resources for bookstores and booksellers, beginning with the Welcome to Bookselling digital assets mentioned in today’s BTW, to name a few of the ABA initiatives currently underway.

And so it begins. Each day a step further into a future that’s still uncertain, but that we can prepare for and, more importantly, help shape.  We’re ready if you are.


P.S.  If you want to review ABA’s 2021 initiatives, here’s the expanded renewal letter recently emailed to members.