A Letter to Members From ABA President Steve Bercu

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Dear Fellow Booksellers:

In January, I asked you to take the time to fill out the short survey about your holiday sales that the Institute for Local Self-Reliance compiles each year. The survey has proven to be an invaluable tool in our ongoing conversations about the value of local business to our communities.

The results are in for 2013, and they confirm what we all probably already know — it pays to spend the time and effort to work on independent business alliances in our towns.

This latest survey found that more than 75 percent of responding businesses located in cities with active Local First campaigns had increased customer traffic or reaped other benefits from these initiatives. The active Local First businesses have also shown a sales growth of 7 percent on average for 2013 compared to 2.3 percent for independent businesses in places without such initiatives. (The results of the entire survey can be downloaded here.)

It is definitely worth the effort to work with your fellow indies to educate your community about the value of shopping at locally owned businesses. Of course, it is also clear that independent booksellers are thriving across the country. We continue to grow, create innovative programming, serve our communities, and be the best place for readers to discover books. 

During the next few months, everyone who has an IndieCommerce website will be moving to the Drupal 7 operating system. With this change, it looks like we will be able to do much more and do it better, and at the same time make our stores more competitive in the digital age. I urge every single store yet again, no matter what your level of sales or digital knowledge, to take a serious look at joining IndieCommerce. This is definitely a place where more is better.  Please use the site and tell your bookselling friends about it.

Many of you may have read the George Packer piece in The New Yorker: “Cheap Words. Is Amazon good for books?” I suppose you can guess my answer. The article has lots of fascinating stuff about Amazon and Jeff Bezos to engage you (such as noting the folly of the agency lawsuit and wondering if Amazon colluded with the Justice Department to get such a favorable — for Amazon — result). The article mentions indies, but it does little to describe how strong the bricks-and-mortar channel has become and how it is growing. I recommend your reading it, however, so you can fill in your knowledge of what many unnamed sources call the biggest bully in the book industry. You will be cheered to read about some of our local heroes like John Sargent and OR Books. My take is that the story has a lot left to be written.

You may also have noticed the press that James Patterson has been receiving for his generous support of (so far) 55 book stores. It makes me happy that he has chosen to spend his money and time this way. Too bad our government doesn’t have the attitude of the French government, so it could support us, too. In any case, I look forward to reading about how the money has been used by the recipients as they further strengthen their businesses and their outreach on behalf of young readers. Of course, I also look forward to his choosing more recipients by whatever method he has to do so. And in case you were wondering, ABA had no part in the decision process.

I hope you are having a wonderful spring! I will see those of you attending the Children’s Institute in San Antonio, and I hope as many stores as possible will attend one of the ABA Spring Forums taking place in locations across the country beginning this week.

Steve Bercu
President, American Booksellers Association
Austin, Texas