Live From BEA -- Day 1

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Live From BEA -- Day 1

On Thursday, June 3, more than 425 independent booksellers from around the U.S. converged at the McCormick Place Convention Center in Chicago for ABA's Full-Day Educational Program at BookExpo America (BEA). Booksellers participated in activities ranging from morning marketing sessions to the booksellers' "What Are You Reading Lunch" to afternoon programming, which focused on independent business alliances, identifying competition, children's bookselling, and more.

Former President Bill Clinton at BEA.

The day culminated with the BEA Opening Night Keynote Address by former President Bill Clinton, whose memoir, My Life (Knopf), is set for publication on June 22. In his address, Clinton spoke to attendees about booksellers' and librarians' efforts to amend Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act -- which gives the FBI broad authority to search records, including bookstore and library records. "This thing about the Patriot Act and the books, you should oppose anything you don't like.... In this case, I think you're right [regarding 215]," Clinton said. "The government hasn't made a case for it yet."

The Morning Sessions

The ABA educational programming got off to a rousing start with an hour-long "Marketing Plenary Session." The energetic seminar featured bestselling authors Jay Conrad Levinson -- renowned as the father of Guerrilla Marketing and author of The Guerrilla Marketing series from Houghton Mifflin -- and Seth Godin (Free Prize Inside, Portfolio). The duo discussed marketing tactics for a new century, and Levinson began by pointing out that marketing included "all the contact anybody at your store has with anybody. It's a process not an event ... and successful booksellers know it."

Levinson noted that, in the past, most marketing tomes were geared to large corporations. In contrast, Guerrilla Marketing, he explained, "has embraced the concept of small business. As small businesses grew, so did Guerrilla Marketing."

Levinson listed 20 ways in which Guerrilla Marketing differs from traditional marketing. "It's the same way marketing in the 21st century differs from the 20th century," he said. One key difference is that, while traditional marketing revolves around a dollar investment, guerrilla marketing is focused on an investment of time, energy, imagination, and knowledge. Moreover, traditional marketing is geared toward big business, while Levinson's concepts are aimed at small businesses. Another difference: traditional marketers count dollars; guerrilla marketers count relationships.

In concluding the discussion, Levinson noted that Guerrilla Marketing identifies 100 different ways to market for free, and outlined 10 that booksellers could implement at their bookstore.

Following Levinson was Godin, who noted that he grew up around the bookstore business. "My mom ran a store in Buffalo," he said. Not surprisingly, the bookselling business is much different these days. "Books need to be sold, they're no longer bought. You run a process, not a store.... If you keep doing what you're doing now, how are you going to grow?"

Godin and Levinson finished up the seminar with each literally taking one minute -- or 54 seconds, minus a six-second transition period between the two speakers, as Levinson joked -- to impart advice to attendees. During this repartee, Godin questioned booksellers, "Is it fun to go to your bookstore? Have you been to a bookstore that's fun? ... You have to make it fun."

"Get personal with your customers," said Levinson, who noted that booksellers should ask some pertinent questions after a customer buys a book. "Why did you buy from us? Why us instead of the discount stores? What do you want that we're not offering? Would you like us to send you a list of books that interest you?"

Following the Plenary Session, booksellers had the choice of attending "Marketing 101: Creating a Marketing Plan," featuring Jeffrey J. Fox, author of How to Make Big Money in Your Own Small Business -- Unexpected Rules Every Small Business Owner Needs to Know (Hyperion), or "Marketing 201: Supercharging Your Marketing Program," which featured Godin and moderator Michael Hoynes, former ABA chief marketing officer.

Jeffrey J. Fox presents "Marketing 101."

While Fox began "Marketing 101" by stating "I love booksellers" and "I love, love booksellers who sell my books," he explained that it is not enough for an owner or bookstore staff member who is asked, why do you own or work in a bookstore to reply, "Because I love books." The answer, he said, should be, "I love people who buy books ... not people who read books.... Bookselling is a business, not recreation or a hobby," and he continually emphasized the "selling" aspect of being a bookseller. Fox explained that booksellers should be spending 60 percent of their time devoted to activities that relate to getting and keeping customers, 30 percent to activities related to buying books, and 10 percent to other administrative duties.

Fox also stressed that booksellers must be trained to sell, and that knowing the right questions to ask is paramount. For example, he said, if a customers asks for a book on greenhouses, a booksellers should follow up by asking the customer if he or she would be interested in books on orchids. It is Fox's belief that booksellers should not accept a customer's statement that they are just browsing -- staff should be able to ascertain, through the right questions, just what that customer wants.

Among Fox's suggestions that will help a store sell more books: Join Book Sense; display not only the Book Sense Bestseller List, but also the New York Times and Publishers Weekly bestseller lists; change displays that are all hardcover books, adding audiobooks and paperbacks; create an Internet presence; use store windows as billboards for books, not bulletin boards for community events; mix up displays; observe and rate other merchants to see what works and ways to improve; make things easier for your customers (for example, regarding returns); make sure staff picks are about the book, not about the writer, and move them to the front of the store; look for ways to make bulk sales through schools, retirement communities, churches, book clubs, RV centers, and convalescent homes; and have a plan for selling the top hundred books in your store -- make sure staff knows what published reviews are saying about these titles.

In the fight against chain stores, a bookseller's interest in, and involvement with, its customers is key, noted Fox. It is what makes an independent bookstore memorable and sets it apart.

Creating the right message and then breaking through all the advertising clutter to deliver it to the right people was the theme of "Marketing 201," featuring Hoynes and Godin.

"I believe we are in the age of the power of the consumer," Hoynes said. "The consumer is deciding expectations and is also going to decide how those expectations are filled. When we started Book Sense, we said the focus would be the consumer."

Hoynes outlined some key industry statistics, including that growth in the book industry is, at present, static. "Only 36 percent of books are purchased in traditional bookstores," he noted. "Mass merchandisers and warehouse clubs have gained significant influence."

The good news is that, according to Ipsos BookTrends, in 2003 independent bookstores fared well on a unit basis, with demand outpacing the overall trade book industry. As a result, the independent/small chain bookstore channel's market position reached a five-year market-share share high of 16 percent (vs. 15 percent in 2002).

Hoynes presented information about various book buyer and reader segments and their market share. Overall, "the challenge for independent bookstores is, you can't let the competition know more about your customers and prospects than you do," he said.

Godin stressed that when ideas spread, "you win." And how do you get ideas to spread? By being "remarkable" -- in its strictest definition -- "by being remarked upon," he explained. "I'm not going to cross the street to go to your bookstore because it's important to you -- just because you paid for the advertising or the billboard.... There's too much clutter.... We need to be different."

For example, don't ask customers for e-mail addresses, ask them for a dialogue. "Send me a 'me-mail' -- the minute you talk about [your company], I'm gone. No one cares about you, how hard you're working, and how much you pay for rent," Godin said.

Godin noted that, while on vacation in France, his two kids were creating a "ruckus" in the back seat of his car, but stopped for a few seconds when they saw a typical cow on a typical farm, and then his children started back up again, their attention diverted. "But what if it was a purple cow? I would have taken pictures! The kids would have jumped out of the car and gone up to touch it, to make sure it was real! It would have been remarked upon."

Godin continued, "Are you prepared to do stuff that's not for everyone? People won't talk about you if you're average. The goal is to make your bookstore not average."

In the afternoon, booksellers fanned out to attend one of five in-depth educational sessions, each of which was offered twice in the afternoon. A point stressed by presenters throughout -- as booksellers focused on such topics as succession planning and small store issues -- was to not only attentively listen to presentations, but, also, to commit to implementing what they had heard at BEA. As Levinson noted in closing the morning keynote address, when people ask him what is the best time to begin a new marketing attack, "I tell them there are two best times.... And they are the same as the two best times to plant a tree: Twenty years ago, and the day you get back from BEA."

Of the morning marketing sessions, DeDe Teeters of Armchair Books in Port Orchard, Washington, said, "These are my favorite kinds of sessions.... They give me hands-on ideas and strategies ... make me want to go back to my store and implement these ideas right now."

And Suzanne Droppert of Liberty Bay Books in Poulsbo, Washington, said of "Marketing 201," "It's one of those things that makes you realize you need to make more time for marketing. Once you start, then it will be easier."

Dana Harper of Brystone Children's Books in Fort Worth, Texas, who attended the day's educational programming, told BTW after the afternoon educational programming, "I really love the educational sessions. I only wish they could be longer. All the new ideas are good -- it's always good to get a shot in the arm and get a new perspective."

The "What Are You Reading" Lunch

Approximately 400 booksellers gathered for ABA's "What Are You Reading" Lunch where talk over manicotti and a very popular chocolate torte was books, books, and more books.

Booksellers at the "What Are You Reading" Lunch.

At one table, owners Jean and Jerry Brace of Brace Books & More in Ponca City, Oklahoma, talked about some recent, favorite reads with Susanna Nawrocki of Twig Book Shop in San Antonio, Texas. Nawrocki was reading Joseph Wilson's The Politics of Truth (Carroll & Graf), and Jean Brace was reading her choice for 2004 Book Sense Book of the Year in the nonfiction category -- Michelangelo & The Pope's Ceiling by Ross King (Walker). Jerry Brace said that he was in the midst of The Battle for God by Karen Armstrong (Ballantine). Brace described how he had become intrigued by Armstrong's writing when he read her memoir, The Spiral Staircase (Knopf).

And then it was on to the next session.

An Afternoon of Children's Programming

A standing-room-only, rapidly paced afternoon of educational programming for children's booksellers, sponsored by the Children's Booksellers and Publishers Committee, took place from 2:00 p.m. - 4:15 p.m. The committee, composed of representatives from ABA, the Association of Booksellers for Children (ABC), and the Children's Book Council (CBC), organized an attention-grabbing couple of hours. Newbery Medal-winning author Linda Sue Park (A Single Shard, When My Name Was Keoko, and The Firekeeper's Son, Clarion Books) gave an address in which told the audience that she was attending her first BEA and then thanked ABA, ABC, CBC, and the "C-A-B that brought me here." She then listed the qualities of her dream bookstore, and concluded by saying that her "dream bookstore exists in real life all over the country." She added that she has had "the great fortune to travel, and I can't tell you how impressed I was over and over about how booksellers understand that books are to be treasured rather than treated as a commodity."

Following Park, the popular Children's Book Buzz Workshop kept booksellers and publishers busy as editors and marketing staff from a variety of publishing houses talked about their top new titles in small roundtable sessions. Each team spent 15 minutes with a table full of booksellers, talked a little about the editorial process for one of their latest titles, and then quickly moved on to the next group of booksellers. Among the books highlighted were Polar Slumber, written and illustrated by Dennis Rockhill from bilingual publisher Raven Tree Press, and Vegan Virgin Valentine by Carolyn Mackler from Candlewick Press.

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers Editor-in-Chief Megan Tingley discussed Luna, a YA book by Julie Anne Peters, about a transgendered boy. Initially, Tingley said, she was anxious about the potentially controversial subject matter, but when she brought the book to her colleagues to consider "everyone was very enthusiastic." She added, "If everyone agrees [on a book], there's something very special about it. We probably have a winner."

Editor & Bookseller Buzz Forum

At the late afternoon Editor & Bookseller Buzz Forum, an array of titles was presented by the industry's leading editors and publishers. Featured titles included Little, Brown's Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell and The Ha-Ha by Dave King; MacAdam/Cage's How to Be Lost by Amanda Eyre Ward; The Penguin Press' We Are All the Same by Jim Wooten; Random House's The Laments: A Novel by George Hagen and Eleventh Month, Eleventh Day, Eleventh Hour -- Armistice Day, 1918: World War I and Its Violent Climax, by Joseph Persico; Regan Books' How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson, American Soldier by General Tommy Franks, and Citizen Vince by Jess Walter; and Simon & Schuster's The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World by A.J. Jacobs and Wolves Eat Dogs by Martin Cruz Smith.

President Clinton's Keynote Wows 'Em at BEA

Last, but definitely not least, Day 1 was topped off by the Keynote Address by former President William Jefferson Clinton, who kicked off his promotional tour for his memoir, My Life. A packed house of book industry professionals gave Clinton a rousing and loud standing ovation. When everyone finally sat down, the former President quipped, "You have to be careful treating me that way, you'll have me believing I'm President again," which prompted another round of applause. In his opening remarks, Clinton thanked the booksellers of America for agreeing to have his book in their lives for the next couple of months, and talked about his lifelong love affair with reading, which began when he was two and his grandmother gave him a copy of Dick & Jane. He noted how books have had a big impact on his life.

Notably, twice during his speech, the former President indicated his support for the position taken by booksellers and librarians to amend Section 215 of the Patriot Act. Acknowledging the complex political challenges facing the nation in its fight against terrorism, Clinton cautioned that "it will take us a while to get the right balance on how we are going to deal with this," but he also underscored that "we need to bend over backwards to protect" free speech.

Clinton's address was at times funny, and at times moving. He called the writing of My Life therapeutic. "I found myself thinking about things [in my life] in sections.... [A]nd after an hour I was there" back in that moment, he said.

Clinton also recommended that others write down their life story. "Someone who is fortunate enough to live 50 [or more] years ... should sit down and write the story of their life" even if it is just for your family, he told attendees, explaining how young people still long to know their roots. -- Reported by Dan Cullen, David Grogan, Rosemary Hawkins, and Karen Schechner

Look for reports on ABA's Thursday afternoon education sessions in the June 10 edition of Bookselling This Week.