NEBA Forum Attendees Talk ABACUS, Gift Cards, and Sales Tax

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On Thursday, February 20, approximately 25 booksellers attended an ABA Booksellers Forum, held in conjunction with the New England Booksellers Association (NEBA), at the Westford Regency Inn & Conference Center in Westford, Massachusetts. According to a number of attendees, the ABACUS sneak preview and ABA's investigation into developing an electronic gift card program were the hot topics of the day's numerous discussions.

Overall, it was a very "upbeat" forum, said Rusty Drugan, NEBA's executive director. "People are excited about the new things that are happening at ABA," he said. Representing ABA at the forum were ABA CEO Avin Mark Domnitz and COO Oren Teicher.

Though many topics were discussed at the two-hour forum, ABA's research into developing a gift card program drew much interest from booksellers in attendance, according to Drugan and booksellers who spoke to BTW. "After hearing about gift cards, people became very enthusiastic," Drugan noted. "Then discussion of an electronic gift card became very substantive very quickly."

"Discussion of the electronic gift card took the most time, partly because some of us needed to be educated on the topic," noted Dale Szczeblowski of Concord Books in Concord, Massachusetts. He said that his POS vendor had approached him in the past and asked if he was interested in having software written that would allow his store to use gift cards. At the time, "I didn't see the point, but Avin was very convincing, and explained how a gift card can be marketed in the store in ways a paper gift certificate cannot," Szczeblowski said. "It turned my head around."

Said Dana Brigham of Brookline Booksmith in Brookline, Massachusetts, "We all agreed that getting something in place by next holiday season would be very good. Paper gift certificates are on the way out."

Brigham reported that another topic that generated much enthusiasm from booksellers was ABA's educational programming planned for the upcoming BookExpo America, to be held from May 28 - June 1 in Los Angeles. This year, seminars will be repeated at different times to give booksellers the chance to attend almost any seminar they feel is relevant. Moreover, seminars will be geared to small, medium, and large stores, Domnitz and Teicher reported. (For more on the seminars, click here.)

"It all sounded great," Brigham said. "It was very well received by booksellers there, especially the accessibility of the seminars."

Another topic discussed was ABA's sales tax fairness initiative, Brigham said. "[Oren] gave a clarification of the issue to help booksellers who have a Web presence and explained how it applies to them and which states are not charging sales tax," she explained. "Oren stressed that the more booksellers who contact their appropriate state officials, the more weight we carry as a group." (For more on the sales tax issue, click here.)

Drugan added that Teicher and Domnitz reminded booksellers that they could print the weekly issue of Bookselling This Week in PDF form with a simple click of the mouse. Additionally, some attendees requested that the Classifieds section be added to the BTW print options, which are at the top of each week's issue.

Prior to the forum, from 3:00 p.m. - 4:00 p.m., ABA held a special "Sneak Preview" of the new 2003 ABACUS data, which was presented by Domnitz and attended by about 15 booksellers. The preview -- open to all stores that had already submitted their financial data to the ABACUS survey or that brought their data with them to the meeting -- gave attendees their first look at data gathered since ABA reintroduced the ABACUS industry study last year. (For more on ABACUS, click here.)

At the preview, Domnitz reported that enough NEBA members had participated in ABACUS to create a regional breakdown, Drugan said. "That will be very useful, to see how much New England stores are paying for occupancy, for example," he said. "[The ABACUS preview] was very informative and shows great potential. It was well received."

Both Brigham and Szczeblowski echoed Drugan's sentiments. Said Brigham, "People realized how very valuable ABACUS could be for them. Just seeing these early results -- many of us have similar issues, and they're things we can tackle."

"The ABACUS preview was very interesting and informative," Szczeblowski said. "I've used it in the past and found it very useful. I’m glad to see the effort that ABA has put into it to make it easier. We're a big supporter of the effort." Overall, both the ABACUS preview and the forum were "well worth going to," he said. "ABA is looking ahead, and I was pleased." --David Grogan