Live From BEA -- Day 3

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Politics and business mixed on Saturday, June 5, at BookExpo America, as Day 3 featured a political lunch, an update on the Campaign for Reader Privacy, and a presentation of petitions to Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois, as well as ABA's comprehensive seminar exploring ways to improve profits. The day was capped by a joyful celebration of the fifth birthday of Book Sense with cake and a group rendition of "Happy Birthday" at the Ingram booth and at other publisher partner booths on the trade show floor.

Book Sense Birthday Bash the Place to BEA

Jim Chandler of Ingram Book Group and ABA's Avin Mark Domnitz.

Hundreds of booksellers, publishers, and other industry professionals gathered at the Ingram Booth on the trade show floor to join Book Sense in celebrating five years of Knowledge, Passion, Character, Personality, and Community. Jim Chandler, chief commercial officer of Ingram Book Group, welcomed booksellers to the birthday celebration and introduced Avin Mark Domnitz, ABA CEO. Domnitz thanked Ingram and talked about how the five-year-old national marketing campaign has "introduced the wonderful attributes of Book Sense to customers and community.'' He then invited the crowd who planned to watch the Belmont Stakes to "enjoy some cake, stick around, and maybe even watch a horse race" on a plasma screen TV set up in the booth.

Northern California Independent Booksellers Association Executive Director Hut Landon told BTW, "This is a wonderful celebration. I'm not surprised that we're at this point -- celebrating five years of Book Sense. The reason [the Book Sense Program] was an easy sell to booksellers, was all about the five attributes. Whenever you asked a bookseller if they were willing to be identified as a bookstore that represented these qualities, everyone said yes."

Domnitz and Esther Margolis, founder and president of Newmarket Press, the publisher of Book Sense Best Books.

About the host of the happy event, Dan Chartrand of Water Street Books in Exeter, New Hampshire, said, "There's no better place than the Ingram booth to center the celebration. They've been such an important part of all independent booksellers' growth over the last quarter century."

Birthday celebrations were also held at a number of other publisher partner booths throughout the trade show floor.

ABA Presents CRP Petitions to Senator Durbin

On Saturday afternoon, at the session "Amend the Patriot Act: The Fight Continues" --moderated by American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression President Chris Finan -- ABA COO Oren Teicher and outgoing ABA President Ann Christophersen of Women & Children First in Chicago presented Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) with signed petitions calling for an amendment to Section 215 of the Patriot Act that were collected from bookstores in Illinois as part of the Campaign for Reader Privacy (CRP).

In October 2003, Senator Durbin, along with Senator Larry Craig (R-ID), and other co-sponsors, introduced the Security and Freedom Ensured Act (SAFE, S. 1709). The legislation would amend parts of the USA Patriot Act, including Section 215, a provision that gives law enforcement officials broad authority to obtain citizens' medical, business, and bookstore and library records without probable cause.

ABA's Oren Teicher presents petitions collected by booksellers in Illinois to Senator Richard Durbin.

As Teicher and Christophersen handed the petitions to Durbin, Teicher noted that ABA has amassed over 120,000 signatures collected from 400 bookstores across the country. Over 1,200 of those signatures came from Durbin's home state of Illinois. "We are extraordinarily gratified with the response from the bookselling community," Teicher said. "We are delighted to present these petitions to Senator Durbin. You booksellers underestimate your ability to influence city hall. We will have Section 215 repealed."

Following the presentation, Durbin discussed S.1709, as well as the need for government to remain accountable at all times, both in war and in peace -- especially in regards to the First Amendment. "The government has the burden to prove they need to [have Section 215], and they haven't," he said. He added that, as reported by many news accounts, Attorney General John Ashcroft has claimed that the government has never used Section 215, which, Durbin said, begs the question, "Then why do you need it?"

Durbin also pointed out that this is a bipartisan issue, and joked, "[SAFE co-sponsor] Senator Craig and I don't agree on anything … [except] the Pledge of Allegiance, but [we] agree on this." He added that the battle to amend Section 215 has brought together such odd bedfellows as the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Conservatives Union. Additionally, a number of Republicans are co-sponsoring SAFE.

To help increase the chances that legislation to amend Section 215 will succeed, Durbin called on attendees to contact their senators and representatives and to ask them to co-sponsor bills that aim to amend it.

The 2% Solution

On Saturday morning, ABA CEO Avin Mark Domnitz conducted the two-hour session, "The 2% Solution," a comprehensive seminar that showed attendees a multitude of ways in which they can increase profits at their stores. "The thrust of the session is to go from a negative profitability to a positive," Domnitz said in his opening remarks. "This used to be called a two percent industry…. The thing that struck me about it, is that it is doable."

The 2003 ABACUS Study of independent bookstore operations indicated that the average profitability of all 197 participants was -1.67 percent, so the crux of Domnitz's presentation was to provide a roadmap to illustrate how booksellers can work on sales, gross margin, compensation, and occupancy expenses to drive that figure into the two percent range.

Throughout his presentation, Domnitz used a hypothetical $1.5 million bookstore as his example, noting that this seems to be a fairly average sales number for an independent bookstore. However, his methods would apply to any store. And while there are many ways in which a store can increase profitability -- such as reducing expenses and increasing sales or margins -- Domnitz stressed that the best course of action is "attack the problem on multiple fronts."

The presentation outlined, in detail, the many ways in which booksellers can increase sales and gross margin and reduce occupancy expenses and payroll to reach the two percent figure. He noted that his entire PowerPoint presentation, as well as an Excel spreadsheet that will allow each bookseller to enter in their own figures, would be available on within the next few weeks.

The Book Sense Reading Room

At the 2004 Book Sense at Five Reading Room, a free event which has become a BEA tradition, four outstanding authors, whose works have appeared on the Book Sense 76 and the Book Sense Picks lists, read from, and spoke about, their books in a relaxed setting.

The authors were Steve Almond, author of Candyfreak: A Journey Through the Chocolate Underbelly of America (Algonquin), which was the number one May 2004 Book Sense Pick; Sue Monk Kidd, author of The Secret Life of Bees (Viking/Penguin), the winner of the 2004 Book Sense Book of the Year Award in the paperback category and a selection of independent booksellers for Best Books: The Best of Book Sense From the First Five Years; Christopher Moore, author of Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal (Perennial), a Book Sense Pick in both hardcover and paperback and a finalist for the 2004 Book Sense Book of the Year Award in paperback; and Kate Whouley, author of Cottage for Sale -- Must Be Moved (Commonwealth Editions), a May 2004 Book Sense Pick.

The Saturday Book & Author Luncheon

Politics took center stage at the Saturday Book & Author Luncheon hosted by C-SPAN Chairman and CEO Brian Lamb (Booknotes on American Character: People, Politics, and Conflicts in American History, PublicAffairs) and featuring New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, former Wall Street Journal Senior National Affairs Reporter Ron Suskind, Donna L. Brazile, Linda Chavez, and P.J. O'Rourke.

Lamb began the lunch by noting that an extraordinary number of new political titles have garnered much media attention, including coverage by CBS' 60 Minutes. He then asked each of the panelists to describe their new or forthcoming titles. O'Rourke, speaking about Peace Kills: America's Fun New Imperialism, published this month by Grove Atlantic, said of himself: "I am the only one writing about politics who has no idea what should be done." Brazile described Cooking With Grease: Stirring the Pots in American Politics (S&S) as an account of her journey in American politics. The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, The White House, and the Education of Paul O'Neill (S&S) "has a long and venerable tradition: Follow the facts…. Paul O'Neill longs for the truth," said Suskind. Chavez said, "I write in [Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics, Crown Forum] about truth and transparency…. I write about the $800 million union dollars spent on electing Democrats." And Dowd described Bushworld: Enter at Your Own Risk, forthcoming from Putnam, as her "attempt to distill the oedipal loop-the-loop that has rocked the world."

Lamb then asked each of the authors what they thought about the role that god is playing in politics today; about the status of the war in Iraq and its impact on the election; and, in response to early morning news reports that former President Ronald Reagan was gravely ill, what effect they thought his death would have on the upcoming election. (Later new reports announced that President Reagan had died.)

The give-and-take on each of the questions, while lively, never degenerated into the free-for-all (between Al Franken and Bill O'Reilly) that marked last year's BEA political lunch.

Lamb concluded the event by asking each of the panelists, "What do you read, or what have you read recently?" O'Rourke mentioned that he had just finished reading Richard Pipes' Communism: A History and that he likes the work of Charles McCarry. Suskind said that he has been trying to keep up with the flood of Bush books, including "House of Bush, House of Saud, the Richard Clarke book [Against All Enemies], and Bob Woodward's [Plan of Attack]." He also mentioned that he had recently finished Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books by Azar Nafisi. Dowd had recently finished Evelyn Waugh's Scoop, but had gone back to reading Shakespeare, she said, for its intrigue and back-stabbing. Brazile mentioned Plan of Attack and said that she was reading James Carville -- about the campaign trail -- and she loved to read Zane. Chavez said she was reading Carson McCullers' The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, in spite of the fact that it was an Oprah Pick, and Who Are We: The Challenges to America's National Identity by Samuel P. Huntington.

The Saturday Book and Author Breakfast

Hundreds of convention-goers gathered for the Saturday Book & Author Breakfast, featuring an all-star dais: Alexander McCall Smith (The Sunday Philosophy Club, Pantheon Books); Alexandra Fuller (Scribbling the Cat: Travels With an African Soldier, Penguin Press); and David Sedaris (Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, Little, Brown). NPR's Terry Gross (All I Did Was Ask, Hyperion) hosted the breakfast.

In her introduction, Gross talked about her new book, which is a collection of approximately three dozen of her interviews conducted on NPR's Fresh Air, and played a few clips of some of the interviews in which she had entertainingly been called to task by some of her interviewees.

Alexander McCall Smith, dressed in a Tartan kilt, gave a hilarious talk and told the audience that often fans think that he's something he's not. "People are disappointed when they meet me," he said. "They say, 'We thought you were a woman, which you don't appear to be….' So I've taken to wearing a skirt." He went on to say that his "books got going thanks to the efforts of independent booksellers. I owe a debt of gratitude, as does Precious Ramotswe in Botswana…."

Taking a more somber tone, Alexandra Fuller discussed the process of writing Scribbling the Cat, a memoir about her travels with a white soldier who fought in the Rhodesian wars and about her own psychic war wounds, and said, "I wanted to put the truth on paper to see what that looked like." Fuller later added, "The only way to be in full possession of your soul is to take responsibility…." In taking responsibility, she had to honestly recount her family's culpability in the Rhodesian wars. But she said Scribbling was something of a catharsis: "It broke me open. There is nothing left to hide, nothing left to heal. I'm simply here, just a soul."

Resuming the lighter tone of the breakfast, much to the delight and/or disgust of the packed Grand Ballroom, David Sedaris talked about, well, um, the boil on his rear end. Not a metaphorical boil, mind you. Sedaris went on in detail about the boil and other minutiae of his life in the ceaseless entertaining way that he's famous for. He also talked about his deep and abiding love for the book tour, though he did have one complaint. "I signed books for 5-1/2 hours and the [staff] came up to me and said, 'Can we give you a mug?'" He then explained, "You can pretty much get a mug anywhere. Hotels or restaurants, if you order a coffee, they'll give you one. You don't need to provide your own." What gift did David want from an appreciative bookseller? A book, of course. --Reported by Dan Cullen, David Grogan, Rosemary Hawkins, and Karen Schechner; Photography by Z.S. Teicher

Watch for more coverage of these and other educational and special events held at BookExpo America in upcoming editions of Bookselling This Week.