As I write this, all of us here at ABA are busily finalizing everything as we prepare for Wi14. It’s like a bookstore on the final weekend before Christmas around here! We are looking forward to seeing many of you in Albuquerque very soon. But I did want to start this letter with a quick update on what has been another successful year for the indie channel.
Despite some challenges securing inventory for a few high-demand holiday titles, the final numbers for unit book sales, as reported by ABA member bookstores for our national indie bestseller list were up — once again — for the 2018 holiday season. That growth was in keeping with the first three quarters of 2018, and, overall, sales for indie stores increased nearly five percent over 2017. As a result, given the strength of recent years, the compound growth in our channel over the past five years is a very healthy 7.5 percent. Of special note is the continued growth in sales for member stores employing IndieCommerce. Preliminary results indicate that year-over-year IndieCommerce sales numbers will be more than 10 percent over 2017, with an especially strong increase in the final eight weeks of the year. (As I’ve been doing now for many, many years, I was delighted to have been able to spend a few days volunteering at a member store. This year, I was at the Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle in the run-up to the holidays. The store was hopping, and I’m particularly grateful to Peter, Tracy, Holly, Rick, Karen — and the entire team at EBBC — for making me feel so welcome. I may have even helped sell a few books!)
I don’t have to tell you that our numbers represent a healthy contrast with the soft national sales for many other bricks-and-mortar retailers, and they underscore why there has been such a sea change in the media’s coverage of independent bookstores. That upward sales trend is a testament to the ongoing commitment by indie booksellers to professional development, ongoing innovation, a strategic focus on store finances, sustained customer assistance, and community involvement. And, against that background, I do want to say that ABA fully understands that there are bookstores in communities that are not seeing these gains for a number of reasons, and ABA will continue to do everything we can to help ensure that all member stores can meet their core business goals.
Obviously, one of our most important initiatives for doing just that is the Winter Institute, and we couldn’t be more excited about the upcoming Wi14 program, which combines a wide range of educational sessions with what I know will be stimulating author keynotes, as well as numerous opportunities to network with fellow booksellers and authors. It’s always ABA’s goal to incorporate the unique local attributes of the Winter Institute host city into our planning and programming, and Albuquerque offers a rich array of resources. We are grateful for all the ideas, support, and participation that we have received from the book and business community — both nationally and in New Mexico — in planning this multifaceted event.
However, one major new Wi14 initiative is directed to all of you who will not be coming to Albuquerque. This year, for the first time, ABA will be bringing as much as possible of the Winter Institute to member stores not attending the event in person. Several author keynotes and featured talks will be live-streamed from Albuquerque. And, in addition, 30 of the educational sessions will be videoed on site and posted on BookWeb.org for members in the weeks following Wi14.
As I’ve noted in previous letters, making more of ABA’s resources — especially educational content — available to member stores on demand is an important association goal. The ABA Board’s decision to use a portion of the proceeds from sales on IndieBound.org to help facilitate the development of on-demand content is going to support the dissemination of the Winter Institute beyond the four walls of the event. I hope you’ll access this content — and, please, do share your feedback, ideas, and suggestions so that we can make this initiative as successful as possible.
As upbeat as the news for indie bookstores has been in recent years, we at ABA recognize that 2019 is likely to present member stores a number of challenges. It’s clear that you will continue to see upward pressures in occupancy and payroll, two of the most critical components of long-term profitability. And, for sure, ABA’s commitment to working with our publisher partners to reduce the cost of goods remains a high priority. Please know that ABA is working on initiatives focused on helping bookstores control their operational costs, and there will be no letup on this score in 2019. We are continuing to work with our colleagues in the U.K. to bring Batch to the U.S., and we are working to begin the process of onboarding stores in the coming months. (We had originally hoped to onboard stores at Wi14, but given all else going on in Albuquerque — and wanting to be certain that everything is 100 percent in place — we decided to wait until after the institute.) On another front, we are continuing to make progress on our effort to offer an affordable health insurance plan for indie bookstores. We’ve still got a ways to go, but, for the first time in many years, there’s a reasonable possibility that a program could be put in place. Thanks to all of you who filled out the health insurance questionnaire sent this past fall.
As always, please don’t ever hesitate to be in touch with me — or others at ABA — if there is anything we can do on your behalf. And, to those of you coming to Albuquerque for the Winter Institute, please feel free to stop me — or any of my staff colleagues or ABA Board members — to share your thoughts, suggestions, etc. I’m eagerly looking forward to seeing and talking to as many of you as I can.
Oren J. Teicher
CEO, American Booksellers Association