Happy New Year!
First of all, it’s really good to be able to begin 2018 with some very positive news from this past year. Year-end book sales figures for the indie channel in 2017 were up 2.6 percent over 2016, significantly outpacing the Census Bureau numbers we have to date that showed a 2.9 percent decrease in sales. (Remember that the Census data reflect sales of all types of participating bookstores, including trade, college, religious, chain stores, and others.) This year’s increase — while a bit more modest than previous years — represents continued, sustained growth over the past five years. And nationally, in the week leading up to Christmas 2017, ABA member stores reported the highest book unit sales since NPD/BookScan started to collect this kind of data. In addition, we’re seeing a discernible increase in sales of titles that have appeared on our various Indie Next Lists, reflecting that the recommendations of indie booksellers continue to drive sales.
I was able to see that sort of vitality and local connection firsthand this year when I took a few days away from the office to join the booksellers at both Penguin Bookshop, in suburban Pittsburgh, and Interabang Books, in Dallas, to volunteer some help selling books in the holiday rush. These trips, when I can personally experience a few days as a bookseller, always contribute to my understanding of what you do every day — and they are always a lot of fun! My thanks to Susan Hans O’Connor and her colleagues at Penguin Bookshop and to Nancy Perot, Lori Feathers, Jeremy Ellis, and their fellow booksellers at Interabang for making me feel so welcome.
Despite the many challenges of 2017 — and we at ABA recognize that not all communities and stores are seeing growth — as we start the new year, there continue to be positive trends. Throughout 2017, new stores opened throughout the country — both startups and existing bookstores opening new locations. And we continued to see established stores sell to new owners. Even with this growth, we at ABA understand that there are still too many communities without an indie bookstore, and we are committed to continuing to do all that we can to assist prospective booksellers, especially in underserved communities. We also recognize the continued challenges posed by the very real shift of retail dollars from bricks-and-mortar to online, and our advocacy on your behalf regarding a level playing field will continue as a major priority for 2018.
Ultimately, the most important fact to underscore from 2017 is — based on our most recent ABACUS report — that we are seeing, on average, that member bookstores are operating more profitably.
For many years, ABA education has focused on helping booksellers better manage the critical drivers of bookstore profitability, and one of our most important tools in that goal is the annual ABACUS financial survey. Very many thanks to the hundreds of you who participated in the latest survey. As I hope you’ve seen in your store reports, this year’s ABACUS results show that, from a national perspective, indie stores are operating more successfully, with real improvement in such key factors as cost of goods sold.
But the greatest utility of the ABACUS report is the help it can give you in the financial management of your business. If you have any questions about your report, I encourage you to contact Michael Becher at Industry Insights or Dan Cullen here at ABA. And do note on your Winter Institute calendar that there will be a session focusing on ABACUS, set for Wednesday, January 24, at 9:20 a.m.
As we see in the improvement shown in ABACUS regarding the average cost of goods sold, it is clear that the changes that many publishers and distributors have individually made over the past few years regarding trade terms and operational improvements are helping to create an improved financial model for indie bookselling.
When I wrote you in the fall, I urged you to carefully review and evaluate the many new frontlist and backlist programs offered by our publishing colleagues. From conversations that I and my colleagues here at ABA have had with many of you, it appears that bookstores nationwide did take advantage of the special terms for Indies First, and other opportunities, that were offered. This is doubly good: First, and critically, it’s good for your store’s bottom line. But it’s also important to note that by utilizing these offers, you increase ABA’s influence on your behalf to advocate for even more changes that will help you and publishers sell more books, more profitably. That is the ultimate win-win for both bookstores and publishers.
As I write this, we at ABA are working around the clock (it’s our holiday season!) to put the final touches on the upcoming Winter Institute, being held in Memphis from January 22–25. Many thanks to all of you who will be joining us there! We’re thrilled that the Institute has become such an important event in the annual bookselling calendar, but we know it would not happen without the ideas, feedback, and participation of scores of member booksellers. A very special thanks to you all. We look forward to seeing you there and very much hope that you have a productive and fun time at Wi13.
And best wishes from all of us at ABA for a healthy and profitable New Year!
Oren J. Teicher
CEO, American Booksellers Association