Northern California Booksellers Forum Draws Big Crowd

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version

San Francisco’s Golden Gate Club in the Presidio was the site of the April 7, ABA Booksellers Forum, which was organized in conjunction with the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association (NCIBA) Spring Workshops. According to Hut Landon, NCIBA executive director, the confluence of workshops with the forum drew a particularly large audience for both.

Over 60 people participated in the luncheon Booksellers Forum, which included spirited discussions about ABA’s future goals. ABA CEO Avin Mark Domnitz and COO Oren Teicher attended the forum, as did ABA Board member Lilla Weinberger of Readers’ Books in Sonoma, and ABA Booksellers Advisory Council members Robert Merrell of Different Drummer Books in Laguna Beach; Dennis Ronberg of Linden Tree Children's Recordings and Books in Los Altos; and Michael Tucker of Books, Inc. in San Francisco. Also attending was Len Vlahos, director of

The forum began with a review of the proposed ABA Strategic Plan. Area booksellers had received a survey questionnaire noting the new plan’s six proposed goals, which was sent with the invitation to the forum, and they had been asked to rank them in order of importance. The same survey was also handed out at the meeting itself. There, booksellers discussed the proposed goals in some detail and offered their thoughts and feedback on priorities.

The forum was then opened up for questions. A prime topic of discussion was BTW, which became on online publication in January. Among those speaking in favor of the new format was Amy Wynn, buyer for the Builders Booksource in Berkeley. She told BTW: "I think that providing access to information may be the most important [ABA] goal. [BTW online] offers all the information so that each store can draw out what relates to them. We are a specialty bookstore so some things don’t apply to us, but it’s great to have dynamic information [online]. It’s right there so you can click and go as deeply into something as you want."

Other booksellers, however, disagreed. While some, like Wynn, found it very convenient for staff to read Web postings throughout the day, others noted that they missed the printed version. The preference for a print version, which had been voiced by booksellers in other regions, recently led ABA to begin work on a greatly enhanced printing option for BTW, Domnitz explained to the NCIBA booksellers. Ron Grantz, co-owner of Open Book Ltd. of Sacramento, told BTW that he and other booksellers at the meeting believed that ABA was on their way to a workable solution. Landon agreed, noting that "the consensus was in favor of ABA’s efforts…. They appreciated that the association had recognized the interest in a printed version."

Another topic of discussion was the Book Sense Bestseller List, specifically that the technological improvements introduced in January had greatly streamlined weekly reporting for booksellers. Consensus among stores reporting to the list was that "it has become easier and easier," said Wynn, who noted that "it’s taking about two minutes [to report] now."

In addition to the forum, the day’s programming included educational panels. ABA CEO Domnitz lead a session on bookstore finances, which attracted the day’s largest workshop turnout. "The people I talked to said it was wonderful. It was very well received," said Landon.

In addition,’s Vlahos led a workshop entitled "Marketing Your Bookstore on Your Web Site," which discussed how a Web site can be a valuable bookstore asset and the source of added revenue, even if the bookstore doesn’t sell books online. Booksellers attending were pleased that Vlahos gave specific solutions to a number of key online challenges.

Solutions were also offered freely in a popular workshop that focused on chronic bookstore problems. A wide range of management issues -- from slacker employees to slacker video renters -- were discussed, as were solutions based on personal experience or sound business sense.

Builders Booksource’s Wynn shared the spirit and the insights of the group immediately upon returning to her store. "I left the meeting jazzed," she said. "The energy and the language were there, so it was very easy for me to talk about it with the owners." -- Nomi Schwartz