It was wonderful seeing so many of you last month at BookExpo in New York! Many thanks for all your participation, in everything from the Meet the Editor and Publicity Speed Dating sessions to the Celebration of Bookselling Lunch, the ABFE Art Auction, and the ABC/CBC Speed Dating Lunch With Children’s Book Authors. Your active presence in the ABA Member Lounge made it a vibrant and fun destination, and ensured the success of the many author signings as well as the galley room in the lounge. The signings and galley room were added specifically in response to the concerns expressed by booksellers in the past to ensure you have special access to authors and new titles during BookExpo. Our thanks go out to all the booksellers who helped plan and execute ABA’s educational programing at BookExpo — which included sessions on Edelweiss+, hiring for diversity, and selling controversial titles, as well as a session for authors on working with independent bookstores.
And a big thank you for your participation in the ABA Town Hall and Annual Membership Meeting. It’s been many years since we have seen so many of you at these BookExpo events, and it’s your feedback and participation that ensure ABA’s ongoing focus and success. Thank you for being there.
In my comments at the Annual Meeting, I noted that the retail landscape was, to say the least, turbulent — and that was before Amazon announced its intention to purchase Whole Foods. But amidst the corporate bankruptcies and chain-store downsizing, the good news is that, overall, the indie bookstore channel has continued its recent healthy performance. Through the end of 2016, we’ve seen a compound annual sales growth of more than six percent over a five-year period, and last year sales in our channel were up almost five percent, with sales so far this year holding on to all of those healthy gains.
Nationally, as you all know, the shuttering of bricks-and-mortar retail locations is accelerating. Bloomberg has estimated that approximately 9,000 retail locations will close in 2017 — and other analysts have posited even higher numbers. While many of the closings come from the ranks of national chains, other indie businesses have also had a difficult time. In contrast, in 2016, 87 new ABA member bookstores opened for business in 32 states and the District of Columbia. That is almost a 43 percent increase over the number of store openings in 2015. Unlike many retail segments, we have continued to see new stores opening, established stores being successfully sold to new owners, existing stores opening new locations, and — especially heartening — a new generation continuing to join our ranks.
However, I do want to underscore two key points.
First, while the national trends for indie bookstores are positive, clearly, there are member stores in communities nationwide that are not seeing these results, for any number of economic or regional conditions. ABA understands this, and I don’t think it can be said enough that ABA is committed to delivering the education, professional development, and business services that all member stores need to grow and succeed. Fulfilling that core commitment is our daily goal.
This past year, we expanded our educational programming, especially regarding bookstore financials, including an in-depth financial workshop that we presented twice last fall and at the Winter Institute. And we are working to improve our delivery of education through webinars and podcasts, most recently with a webinar in May that focused on creating effective bookstore press kits. This month, we will be presenting a webinar on off-site event planning, and in August there will be a webinar on basic sales techniques to engage customers, with more coming in the months ahead.
The second point is that, even as we continue to see more media coverage about the resurgence of independent bookselling (with well over 100 stories in 2016, appearing in everything from Time magazine to Tampa Bay Creative Loafing), it’s important to acknowledge and understand that we are all facing major, long-term challenges, chief among them rising business costs. To cite just one example, going into the fourth quarter of 2016, retail rents, which had increased for 12 consecutive quarters, have risen four percent year-over-year. And, as we deal with these and other operational challenges, our key competitor continues to aggressively pursue a strategy of industry and economic dominance, which is made only more clear in its bid to take over Whole Foods.
I know I’ve referred to it before, but I hope all of you have had a chance to read the ground-breaking study on Amazon from Stacy Mitchell and her colleagues at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, if only the very informative introduction. Their work documents Amazon’s unparalleled expansion, which has the clear potential of controlling almost every aspect of retailing, and, in fact, dominating all our economic transactions. Clearly, this is a significant challenge. But, as I’ve said before, we should never underestimate our resources and capabilities.
When the fight for e-fairness began more than 15 years ago, many dismissed it as a lost cause from day one. The results have proven them wrong.
As of April 1, Amazon is collecting sales tax in all 45 states that have a sales tax. The considerable political influence of independent booksellers nationwide — as part of a broad coalition of retailers — won the fight and successfully changed the political and business landscape.
Getting elected officials moving in the right direction — toward innovative, 21st-century solutions about antitrust enforcement and true consumer protection — won’t be easy. But it’s an essential political fight, and, in the months ahead, ABA will be reaching out to you to help us make the important case that no single mega-corporation should receive special treatment — or should be able to use its outsized clout to the long-term detriment of consumers and communities.
I’m drafting this letter over the July 4th holiday, a day of great pride. All of us have been gifted with a unique and rich history and political heritage, especially in the freedoms enshrined in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, beginning with the First Amendment, which is the bedrock of bookselling. ABA’s commitment to doing everything we can to support and protect the First Amendment rights of all Americans remains at the core of who we are. And this is also a day to acknowledge and celebrate our country’s long history of inclusion and innovation, which is showcased in the entrepreneurial successes that characterize bookselling.
To be sure, all of us have come to realize, now more than ever, the ongoing gaps between the status quo and our aspirations. In this moment of resurgent indie bookstores, I want you to know that ABA is fully focused on your important central goals — including working to encourage the opening of more bookstores in underserved ZIP Codes, clearly making the case for intelligent enforcement of our nation’s antitrust laws, committing to helping ensure greater diversity among our bookselling colleagues, and making sure that every bookstore has access to the education and business tools necessary for its growth and success.
No one at ABA underestimates the challenges, and we know that we can’t solve every problem, but by working together — as we have demonstrated so many times over the years — we can ensure that indie bookstores don’t just survive, but thrive.
Thanks you for your continued participation and engagement!
Have a great summer.
Oren J. Teicher
CEO, American Booksellers Association
P.S. On a personal note, I want to express my heartfelt thanks to all of you who reached out to express condolences over my Dad’s passing, as well as your warm concern about other recent events in my personal life. The bookselling and the broader book community have always been my extended family, and your support and encouragement has been most comforting during this difficult period. I am most grateful.