NCIBA Show Earns Positive Reviews

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Attendance at this year's Northern California Independent Booksellers Association (NCIBA) Trade Show was up, and booksellers who spoke to BTW dubbed it a terrific success. The show was held from Friday, October 5, through Sunday, October 7, at the Oakland Convention Center and Oakland City Center Marriott.

Among the highlights were the Saturday Author Reception, the Saturday and Sunday Author Breakfasts, and Friday's Education Day.

NCIBA Executive Director Hut Landon told BTW that he was very pleased with this year's show, which had significantly higher attendance on Sunday, compared to last year. "It was still slower than Saturday, but we had much better traffic than [Sunday] last year," he said. "We e-mailed our booksellers prior to the show, and we urged them to bring as many staff people as they could manage this year." Noting that many publishers are reevaluating their participation in regional trade shows, Landon said, "We felt it was important to have a good turnout this year."

"I thought the show went very well," said NCIBA President Nick Setka of Book Passage in Corte Madera. "The education day on Friday was very well attended. We had our general membership meeting on Friday, and there were a lot of booksellers there -- I'd guess the attendance at the General Meeting was more than double this year than years' past. That was great.... I can't recall a show as vibrant as this one for a long time."

John Evans of Deisel, A Bookstore, which has a store in Oakland and in Malibu, said, "The size and scale and friendliness of the show felt very comfortable. The show seemed more dynamic."

Random House caused a stir this year when it decided against having a booth on NCIBA's trade show floor. The publisher participated in other aspects of the trade show, but it opted to hold meetings in a hotel meeting room instead of being on the trade show floor. "We respected Random House's decision to try something different at our show," Landon said. "We know that they were missed on the floor and are hoping that, in the future, we can find a way together to fulfill Random House's needs at the show without sacrificing a presence on the trade show floor."

The show's Friday educational panels and workshops earned rave reviews from attendees who spoke to BTW.

Traci Fishburn of Bookworks in Aptos, California, attended the ABA session "Improve Efficiency to Achieve Success," which was presented by Dan Cullen, ABA Information director and editor-in-chief of the Book Sense Picks. Intended for owners and senior staff of bookstores of all sizes, this seminar focused on how booksellers can use their time more effectively, make their staff more productive, and implement efficiencies throughout the store. "That was great," Fishburn said of the seminar. "My business partner and I were very fired up afterwards."

The NCIBA session "The Fine Art of Store Display," led by Claire Klassen, display manager for BookPeople in Austin, Texas, also earned great reviews from attendees. "[Klassen] was great," said Judy Wheeler of Towne Center Books in Pleasanton, California. "I just thought that she was practical in what she offered and really good."

"[Klassen] had some really good ideas," Fishburn seconded. "It was very informative."

Also on Friday was the panel "The New Environmentalism." The discussion, moderated by ABA COO Oren Teicher, featured panelists Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus, managing directors of American Environics, a social values research and political strategy firm, and authors of Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility (Houghton Mifflin); Congressman Jay Inslee, (D-WA), co-author of Apollo's Fire: Igniting America's Clean Energy Economy (Island Press); and Ellis Jones, sociology professor at UC Davis and author of The Better World Handbook: Small Changes That Make a Big Difference (New Society Publishers).

NCIBA offered the session to help booksellers respond to growing public interest in finding new ways to protect the environment. "Because Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth has helped to spur sales and get customers interested in the subject, we thought it could be useful to booksellers to provide education in this area," explained Landon.

In a change from previous years, roundtable discussions at the show were organized by region, rather than subject matter. The new format was adopted to allow booksellers from the same area to get to know each other better and perhaps plan regional projects or activities. "People had conversations about area activities, like bus tours, Shop Local campaigns," Landon reported. "Booksellers continue to tell us that they want an organized opportunity to talk to other booksellers." Towne Center's Wheeler told BTW that the roundtables are "always great for idea sharing."

In another key change at this year's show, the Moveable Feast was replaced by an Author Reception, styled after the popular event at ABA's Winter Institute last year in Portland. NCIBA's reception featured 18 authors who signed copies of their books or galleys and mingled with booksellers. Describing the reception as a "fun" event, Wheeler said that she appreciated the opportunity to meet authors whose books she is looking forward to reading.

The Saturday and Sunday Author Breakfasts had higher than usual attendance, said Landon.

The Saturday Author Breakfast featured Michael Krasny (Off Mike, Stanford University Press), John Dean (Broken Government: How Republican Rule Destroyed the Legislative, Executive, and Judicial Branches, Viking), and Alice Sebold (The Almost Moon, Little Brown). "It was fantastic, and I'm not even a morning person," said Diesel's Evans.

The Sunday Children's Author Breakfast featured Alice Walker (Why War Is Never a Good Idea, HarperCollins), Michael Hoeye (Time to Smell the Roses: A Hermux Tantamoq Adventure, Putnam), and Scott Westerfeld (Extras, Simon Pulse).

"Both days were great," said Wheeler.

Several NCIBA member booksellers were honored with awards at this year's show. The award for "Outstanding Handselling" went to Kevin Hunsanger of Green Apple Books in San Francisco, for selling more than 2,000 copies of You Can't Win by Jack Black over a five-year period; and to Clay Banes, Pegasus Books Downtown, Berkeley, for creating, in the words of the store owner, a "poetry section to be reckoned with" and promoting it with, among other things, author events and a dedicated blog.

The "Outstanding Bookstore Event" went to Kepler's weekly Go Green Summer Series, which explored ways to improve the environment, to create a healthier community, and to have fun in the process. The award was presented to the Kepler's coordinator for the series, Kristi Breisch.

The "Debi Echlin Memorial Award for Community Bookselling" went to Rakestraw Books in Danville and Michael Barnard, the store's owner.

At the ABA booth at the show, booksellers who dropped off a business card were entered in drawings for prizes, courtesy of ABA and BookExpo America. Traci Fishburn of Bookwords won an iPod, courtesy of BEA, and Kathleen Caldwell of A Great Book Place for Books in Oakland won a color inkjet printer, courtesy of ABA.

Both winners, and all of the other booksellers who dropped off business cards at the ABA booth at any of this fall's regional shows, will be included in drawings taking place at the end of October, at the conclusion of the trade show season. Prizes include accommodations at Hotel ABA at BEA 2008 in Los Angeles, courtesy of BEA; hotel accommodations at the Third Annual Winter Institute in Louisville in January, courtesy of BEA; and 24 publisher-sponsored scholarships, including reasonable transportation costs and up to a three-night hotel stay at the Winter Institute.

Fishburn summed up the NCIBA trade show experience: "I thought it was a great show. It was the first time I went for all three days, and I'm really glad I did." --David Grogan

A First-Timer's Impressions of the NCIBA Trade Show

By Praveen Madan, Co-Owner of The Booksmith in San Francisco

I have long believed that every writer is biased with their own unique worldview -- a complicated and highly personalized lens through which we all interpret the world around us and try to make sense of it. Our background, beliefs, values, outlooks all shape this worldview lens we carry with us. Wouldn't it be wonderful if every writer disclosed their worldview so the readers know exactly and explicitly how the writer is distorting reality! So, with that context, I feel I must first tell you what I can of my own worldview and hopefully this will help you put some context around what I have to say about the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association trade show this past weekend. I am an unusual bookseller -- trained first as an engineer and then as an MBA, I spent nearly two decades working as a management consultant for large corporations. I am trained to find problems. Ask me about my impressions for any situation, and I will give you a list of things that are wrong with it and how to make it better. I can't help it -- that's who I am. And publishing and bookselling is one really broken industry. I am also a huge optimist -- always hoping and dreaming things can and will get better.

Now, I share with you eight impressions of the NCIBA trade show this past weekend. It was the first time I went to NCIBA's annual trade show. We will start with the educational programming on Friday and go on from there to other more varied parts of the trade show. The impressions I share are a mix of things that provoked me, things I hope will provoke you, actions I took, thoughts that crossed my mind, etc. I picked these because they are what I remember the most. Treat it as a box of chocolates -- every piece is a little different.

1. Bookstores as political statements: The show opened with a conversation between Nick Setka, president of NCIBA, and Paul Yamazaki, manager of the world famous City Lights books. I only caught the second half of the conversation but one particular comment that stuck me was Paul's assertion that bookstores have an important curatorial role. Yes, that's a nice way to describe it. Paul followed up with "There is this customer who keeps coming to our store and asking why we don't carry Ayn Rand's books. Why not? Well, they are just terribly written." Full disclosure -- Ayn Rand is one of my favorite writers.

2. Don't keep your e-mails in your inbox: Dan Cullen of ABA gave a 90-minute talk on "Improving Efficiency to Achieve Success." I judge trainers against a high standard. Dan gets an A for being highly energized, like the Energizer Bunny, and a B for being funny and entertaining -- his talk was packed with cartoons, jokes, personal stories about root canals and campaign calling, and buzz words like pile-itis (habit of creating piles of papers) and cranial data dumps. He also gets a B for condensing, synthesizing, and sharing the learnings from many resources and pointing the audience to many other resources, books, and articles by efficiency gurus like Stephen Covey, Julia Morgenstern, and David Allen. I give him a C (sorry Dan!) for providing solid actionable insights that booksellers can use to become more efficient. Good training has to be simple but provocative. It should make you see your business in a new light and make you think. Training is fundamentally about changing human behavior for the better. I wondered if people were taking away anything from this class that they would be able to use or was it mostly a refresher on generally accepted wisdom that is good to know but hard to do. Christopher Stroth, a fellow bookseller from HickleBee's in Willow Glen, summarized it for me: "This session was like trying to quit smoking. It's one thing to know what to do, but to be able to make the decisions and choices to change behavior -- that's the hard part." Best part of the training -- after bashing e-mails as reactive, time-wasting drains and offering lots of advice on how to deal with e-mails, Dan offered to send everyone more e-mails with efficiency-related documents and resources.

3. What's your core competence? Amy Sandberg of Co-optimize delivered a useful and focused presentation on co-op. I love co-op because it represents money in the bank. I hate co-op because publishers make it nightmarishly complex and not worth the hassle. Amy convinced me she understands co-op. She also convinced me I shouldn't try to understand co-op. God bless Amy! I hired her to do the co-op for Booksmith. I have preached to my business clients for decades -- focus on what you do best, and outsource the rest. C.K. Prahalad called it core competence and made millions from selling the concept. Time to practice what I preach. I am outsourcing my co-op program. Don't you dare call her right now, she has to finish helping me catch up with my messy negotiations with Hachette before she can take on more new clients.

4. Merchandising matters! Claire Klassen from BookPeople in Austin, Texas, gave a presentation on store displays. She wowed the audience with pictures of her colorful, topical displays and stories of how she Googled around to find the right image and stuck it against a glass pane so she could use it to create a handcrafted poster. The more hands-on oriented folks learned about the type of foam core to use and where to buy it. She clearly loves her job. I just want to hire her or someone like her.

5. Overheard on the trade show floor: The sales rep at one not-to-be-named large publisher talking to another in their booth -- "I guess all the bottom feeders are gone." Was this a reference to booksellers on the prowl for galleys? Hmm!

6. Audience pays for advertising: I couldn't believe we had to pay $20 for a $4 sandwich for lunch while we were subjected to a dozen sales reps pitching their favorite books for the season. That's called advertising and normally the advertiser pays. I never heard of the audience paying to listen to advertisements. Well, I was one of those who paid 20 bucks. Note to self -- skip this session next year. It's better when the sales rep calls on you at the store, and they even buy lunch!

7. Why independents matter? Random House held a series of focus groups with independent booksellers in a meeting room at the trade show hotel. (The publisher did not have a traditional booth on the floor this year.) We met Paul Kozlowski, Ruth Liebmann, and their team in one such focus group. As the caffeine kicked in I couldn't help but ask Paul why they bother with independents at all. Isn't it easier for them to send sales reps to the chains and in a few meetings have their books in a couple thousand stores. To achieve the same result with independents, they will have to deal with 2,000 separate buyers. Sounds messy, complex, and costly! So why bother with the independents? Paul's answer was, it's important to Random House to have multiplicity of viewpoints. Ruth added the analysis of sales in the first three to six months of a new book. Apparently in a number of cases they are seeing that 30 to 50 percent of a book's sales volume in the first three to six months is coming from independents even though we only have a 10 percent overall share of book distribution. So, what explains this three to five times higher share in that crucial early stage of a new book's life cycle? Probably the fact that discerning readers go to independents to discover the next great read. Question to other independents: So if we are so important to publishers in the early stages of a book, how do we better capitalize that?

8. Find of the trade show: NCIBA's holiday catalog. What a deal! Hut Landon and his team have organized this nice holiday catalog of books that we can do custom imprinting on. It's free for booksellers -- obviously subsidized by publishers whose books are featured. I am scrambling to get my order in. Got to go!

Praveen Madan, and his wife, Christin Evans, became the owners of San Francisco's The Booksmith in June 2007.