The Place Where We Are Right
by Yehuda Amichai
From the place where we are right
Flowers will never grow
In the spring.
The place where we are right
Is hard and trampled
Like a yard.
But doubts and loves
Dig up the world
Like a mole, a plow.
And a whisper will be heard in the place
Where the ruined
House once stood.
This is where I begin. My first spring in New York, my first week as the new CEO of the American Booksellers Association, and my first letter to all of you.
Although the renaissance of indie bookselling in recent years has been reason to celebrate, bookstores are still struggling and booksellers continue to lose sleep at night, counting the long list of threats — like rising costs, an election year, a pandemic, a looming recession, and Amazon.com — like sheep.
In my seven years as CEO overseeing Vroman’s in Pasadena and Book Soup in West Hollywood, California, I had nights like that, too. Earlier in my career, as the general manager and a bookseller at Book Soup, I worried about the many things outside our control that affected our bottom line. And in my time serving as vice president of the Southern California Independent Booksellers Association, president of the Independent Booksellers Consortium, and a member of ABA’s Booksellers Advisory Council, I had many conversations with many of you about what you hope for this industry and what you need from ABA.
Which is why I believe that a sea change is critical for our industry to survive these threats and, more importantly, to thrive — we need a more sustainable model, more profitable businesses, better wages, and more sleep.
I see my new job as digging up our industry, exploring ideas that make us uncomfortable, challenging our assumptions, listening to new voices, and making changes in the ways we think about our businesses.
I said it at Winter Institute and I’ll say it again: Right now we have a tremendous opportunity to reframe the conversation we’ve been having within our industry and to rethink every aspect of our business, and even ABA. As we begin an exploration together of new ideas, new initiatives, and new technology, I ask that you keep an open mind. New ideas are critical to transformation, and criticism only starves our ecosystem. Your valuable input, on the other hand, will feed it. The ideas that are not perfect for your store may help other stores — a rising tide in our industry will lift all bookstores — but your input could transform imperfect ideas into perfect ones, or even future game changers.
So let’s begin digging and talking and moving toward spring. I would love to hear more about your stores, what keeps you up at night, and your thoughts on the future of bookselling at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also read more about me and my work in bookselling. I’m excited to be here and excited to begin.
Allison K Hill
CEO, American Booksellers Association