Online Tax Fairness a Big Topic at ABA Bookseller Forum in Ann Arbor

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On Thursday, February 6, approximately 30 booksellers attended an ABA Booksellers Forum, held in conjunction with the Great Lakes Booksellers Association (GLBA), at Weber's Inn in Ann Arbor, Michigan. According to a number of attendees, ABA's sales tax fairness initiative was the hot topic of the discussion.

Overall, it was a productive forum, noted Jim Dana, GLBA's executive director. "I thought it went great," he said. Representing ABA at the forum were ABA Board member Karl Pohrt of Shaman Drum Bookshop in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and ABA CEO Avin Mark Domnitz and COO Oren Teicher.

The ABA sales tax fairness initiative was discussed with much interest at the meeting, Dana reported. Teicher began the topic by discussing the letter from ABA and bookstore members urging state governors and other elected officials to immediately take steps to enforce state tax laws fairly and uniformly. He stressed that this initiative does not stop with the letter.

"Oren talked about how this was an ongoing effort and that we really needed booksellers to sign on and stay in touch with their state representatives on the topic," Dana noted. "He said booksellers should form groups in each state to take up the initiative." (For more on the booksellers' letter, click here.)

Forum attendee Nicola Rooney of Nicola's Books in Ann Arbor noted, "The sales tax initiative really seems to be getting somewhere at the moment." Just recently, the Washington Post reported that some national retailers, including Wal-Mart and Target, have begun to collect sales tax on their online sales (For an article on this topic, click here.)

Domnitz and Teicher also discussed ABA's investigation into developing an electronic gift card program.

"Avin and Oren wanted to know how [booksellers] would respond if the gift card was only redeemable in their own store," GLBA's Dana reported. "As an interim step toward a national gift card, we thought that was okay, but eventually we would like a national gift card." All told, however, all concurred that a gift card was the direction that Book Sense should take, he said.

Rooney said her customers inquire about gift cards all the time. "I endorse the individual store card," she said. "I know what percentage of [Book Sense] paper gift certificates are redeemed at my store and 95 percent come back to me. You could then use the paper gift certificate as the national."

Rounding out the forum, Domnitz and Teicher reminded booksellers of the importance of reporting to the Book Sense bestseller lists, and discussed how easy it was to do this by using Nielsen BookScan, an electronic method for reporting, said Dana.

Rooney said she was surprised by how many booksellers in attendance did not report to the bestsellers lists through BookScan. "It takes me literally 30 to 40 seconds every Monday to report," she said. "It's much quicker than other reporting. And in getting it set up, my time investment was about 45 minutes."

Prior to the forum, about 17 booksellers attended the "Budgeting and Monitoring Workshop: Watching the Bottom Line," led by ABA's Domnitz. At the seminar, booksellers reviewed a series of Excel worksheets that will allow them to integrate into their operations a system of financial controls, to predict bookstore performance and then to measure outcomes against those predictions.

"I thought [the Budgeting and Monitoring workshop] went great," said Dana. "I saw it once before, about a year ago in Chicago, and it seemed like it was new and improved. It was straightforward and logical in the way it's rolled out."

Following the Booksellers Forum was a sneak preview of the new 2003 ABACUS data for all stores that had already submitted their information or had brought their data to the preview. Last year, ABA reintroduced the ABACUS industry study, a proven financial research tool for independent booksellers that offers a wide range of bookselling-specific financial break downs and analyses. (For more on the new ABACUS, click here.)

During the discussion, Domnitz demonstrated to attendees the importance of paying strict attention to payroll costs, including salary and benefits. "Paying attention to payroll -- people aren't as careful about it as they should be, whether it's overtime or a half hour here or there," Dana said. "It's one of the few places where you can make an impact on your bottom line."

Connie Geverink, owner of Chesterfield Books in Chesterfield, Michigan, also attended the ABACUS preview. "It was very interesting and I'm looking forward to when the report is finalized," she said. Overall, she found the entire day "very helpful. Just getting together with other booksellers is such a pleasure. It's always worthwhile," she said. --David Grogan