Alright, folks — it’s about to get nerdy.
In addition to my work as a bookseller, I also tutor and do developmental editing, so I realize that what I’m super excited to share with you today might make some people’s eyes glaze over. However, I hope that I can keep you engaged, and maybe even excited, about one of my favorite things about being on the ABA Board: the annual Ends Policy review. I’ve been able to get students to balance algebra equations with levels of glee almost approaching my own, so I’m going to hope for the best.
But if you need a quick summary, also known as a “TLDR” (“too long, didn’t read”): The Board is proud to share its revised Ends Policies, which aim to be simple, effective, measurable, and inspiring.
The American Booksellers Association, like other nonprofits, has a volunteer board (myself and the twelve other booksellers/owners) and paid staff, managed by the CEO (Allison Hill). You can read about our Board job description in detail in Section 1 of our Governance Policies, but the Ends Policies are perhaps the most persnickety and most powerful parts of our job.
Because our organization uses Carver’s Policy Governance® model, our crafting of Ends Policies is our most concrete leadership. The Ends Policies encapsulate our purpose, our intention, and our hopes for ABA. Allison, as CEO, interprets this document; it informs her work, and therefore the work of the ABA staff. Their labor is what brings members what they need, and they align their actions (the “means”) to reach our Ends.
At this stage in tutoring, I’d probably suggest we get up and do a few jumping jacks or sing a verse of a zippy song together to make sure our blood is still flowing to our brains. Are you still with me? Great! Editor me reassures you that exposition is done — now the narrative arc kicks in.
Because the Ends Policies are so important to us as a Board, we committed a large portion of our June in-person meeting in Milwaukee to discussing them. We started with the question of whether we thought we should write or revise. We did a bit of reverse engineering: Were we satisfied with the work ABA is doing? From our conversations with members, feedback from the Booksellers Advisory Committee (BAC) and the ABA Children’s Group, and our experiences as members ourselves, we felt that ABA is supporting its members well. Our Ends Policies largely worked for us. We would revise rather than rewrite. The editor in me rejoiced.
We worked on our revisions through the in-person meeting, over shared live edits, and again when we were together via Zoom in our July meeting. Hours and hours of discussion and care went into these revisions, and I feel proud of the consideration taken word by word, line by line. I will take you through the changes and the reasoning behind them. We have also included the complete new version and prior version at the end of this piece for your reference.
In the first sentence, we changed “bookstores can operate successfully as sustainable businesses” to “bookstores can operate successfully.” This felt more direct. We consider sustainability part of success, and we want to see bookstores thrive now.
The next two sentences’ wording remained unchanged, but we added a formatting change: Now there are paragraph breaks to help give a visual cue to the reader that these are important sentences. The first new mini-paragraph reflects our Carver-esque understanding of the responsibility of any organization — “achieved at a level that justifies the resources invested while ensuring the association’s long-term financial sustainability.” The next point states our “commitment to antiracism, equity, access, and representation,” which we reference at the beginning of every Board meeting as a broad guiding principle, and which guides all of the ABA’s staff’s work. These are significant to us as a Board, and we wanted the formatting to show that.
We changed “The ABA has four broad tasks” to “ABA prioritizes” to be clearer. The prior wording suggested a logical parallelism that we weren’t delivering — readers might have expected four tasks to align with four enumerated Ends. The new language is simpler, eliminates that false structure implication, and it helps us be very clear that the Ends are about what the Board wants the CEO to prioritize.
We reordered those priorities a bit, added an “s” as copy editing, and included “operational support,” which had not been explicitly stated before. “[E]ducation, promotion, partnership, and advocacy” became “education, promotion, advocacy, partnerships, and operational support.” The concept of operational support covers a lot, including business services, discounts, and IndieCommerce, and we feel that those conversations are essential.
“Accordingly, the association will work to ensure that:” didn’t suit our goal for simplicity. Instead, we chose to introduce the next points with the phrase, “We envision:” These new words speak to our aspirations as well as to our commitment to focus the Board’s and organization’s energy on moving forward.
We revised the first enumerated point, (1), by replacing “necessary skills” with “resources” and making a cleaner explanation of examples of the resources the ABA can provide. This creates a more actionable and measurable statement. The streamlining also achieves clarity and emphasis. It now reads “1. Core members will have resources to be successful, including: skills, technology, community, and support of their right to freedom of expression.”
After thoughtful discussion about the significance of freedom of expression, a small group of emails we received from members, and the substantial work being done by ABA, we determined that ABA is providing necessary and much-needed resources in “support of [members’] right to freedom of expression” (a phrase that was formerly 1(a) but has been moved into the text of our first enumerated End). Member feedback indicates that ABA provides strong support of booksellers through legal action, advocacy, education, store-specific support, and strategic planning to protect and champion businesses, booksellers, and readers moving forward. This indicates that the language from the prior version has been interpreted as intended. We shifted this phrase into the first enumerated point to emphasize how central it is to our vision for ABA.
We reworked 1(b) and 1(c) from the prior version to make a stand-alone point focusing on the people in bookselling: 2. Booksellers will have access to resources to support their work and welfare. With this second End, ABA’s commitment to booksellers is easy to find, and it highlights the importance of booksellers to bookselling.
We have found it difficult to measure ‘understanding” and think it will be easier to track and measure progress through “access.” In the update, we specify bookseller work and welfare — because booksellers are the heart of bookselling as a business, and the health, mental health, and wellbeing of the humans in our stores are crucial to the health and wellbeing of our industry. Notably, everyone on the Board considered themselves to be booksellers, whether owners or frontline booksellers, and that gave our group a strong sense of unity. We hope that this revised End helps you feel that, too.
Our previous second point, “The general public have an awareness and understanding of the cultural and economic value of independent bookstores.” became our third in this version. We kept the text as-is because we think it is already clear, actionable, and being interpreted well, with campaigns like “The Future Is Indie,” Independent Bookstore Day, and the enduring power of the Boxed Out campaign as evidence.
“3. The book industry views independent bookstores as vital and valued partners” has been reworked as “4. Book industry partners will view all independent bookstores as vital and valued, and will view booksellers as professionals.” The phrase “The book industry” felt too broad. This revision focuses on partners ABA works with so we can monitor and measure for impact. “Vital and valued” are still the core of this text, but you can see we also added “all” to modify “independent bookstores” in recognition of the rich diversity of member stores.
We also added the words referencing “booksellers as professionals” because we want to acknowledge the specialized nature of bookselling; it’s not just a job, it’s a profession. Staff knowledge and expertise are part of the value that bookstores provide and why bookstores are such vital elements of the publishing ecosystem.
Finally, we simplified the last End to “5. Legal and regulatory policies will reflect the interests of bookstores.” We took out “antitrust action and small business assistance” because we think they can be assumed to be the interests of bookstores. From our discussions with Allison, her interpretations will reflect this as she and the team continue the work already being done by the organization.
If you made it to the end of this letter, even by scrolling and skimming, thank you for your interest in the ABA Board’s work. We are grateful for your participation in our transparency through community.
Tegan Tigani, ABA Board President and Children’s Book Buyer/ Bookseller at Queen Anne Book Company in Seattle, WA
ABA Ends Policies 2023–2024
The American Booksellers Association exists so that its core membership of independent bookstores can operate successfully and constitute a vital channel in the U.S. book market.
This will be achieved at a level that justifies the resources invested while ensuring the association’s long-term financial sustainability.
This will be done in a manner that demonstrates a commitment to antiracism, equity, access, and representation.
ABA prioritizes education, promotion, advocacy, partnerships, and operational support.
1. Core members will have resources to be successful, including: skills, technology, community, and support of their right to freedom of expression.
2. Booksellers will have access to resources to support their work and welfare.
3. The general public will have an awareness and understanding of the value of independent bookstores.
4. Book industry partners will view all independent bookstores as vital and valued, and will view booksellers as professionals.
5. Legal and regulatory policies will reflect the interests of bookstores.
Approved July 20, 2023
ABA Ends Policies 2022–2023
The American Booksellers Association exists so that its core membership of independent bookstores can operate successfully as sustainable businesses and constitute a vital channel in the U.S. book market. This will be achieved at a level that justifies the resources invested while ensuring the association’s long-term financial sustainability. This also will be done in a manner that demonstrates a commitment to antiracism, equity, access, and representation.
The ABA has four broad tasks — education, promotion, partnership, and advocacy. Accordingly, the association will work to ensure that:
1. Core members have the necessary skills, education, technology, community (including other independent businesses), and resources to be successful and financially sustainable.
1(a). Core members have the resources in support of their right to freedom of expression.
1(b). Core members understand that the welfare of all booksellers is essential to sustainability.
1(c). All booksellers have the necessary resources to enable them to succeed.
2. The general public have an awareness and understanding of the cultural and economic value of independent bookstores.
3. The book industry views independent bookstores as vital and valued partners.
4. Legal and regulatory policies reflect the interests of independent bookstores in such areas as antitrust action and small business assistance.