A Report on the May 2021 ABA Board Meeting

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The American Booksellers Association’s Board of Directors met on May 12–13, 2021, via Zoom, to address a number of issues.

Over the course of the meeting, the Board:

  • Reviewed a report from ABA CEO Allison Hill on ABA’s activities since the last full board meeting. It included details on:

    • The recent success of Independent Bookstore Day (IBD), noting that respondents to a post-IBD survey rated the event an 8 out of 10 on average (on a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best), with 70 percent of respondents indicating sales increases over other recent Saturdays and 82 percent indicating increases over IBD 2020. Hill noted ABA’s gratitude to IBD Program Director Samantha Schoech for her work on the program, together with many ABA staff who contributed to its success.
    • An update on the schedule for Booksellers Advisory Council meetings (BAC) and new appointments to the BAC:

    • An update on ABA’s new Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee (DEIC). Members of the new DEIC self-identify as neurodivergent, disabled, fat, Latinx/Chicano/Mexican, LGBTQIA+, Indigenous, Chinese American, African American, Black, and Afro Caribbean/American, and are representative of a mix of store size, model, owner/bookseller, region, and industry tenure. Hill noted that, so far, the new DEIC has initiated a LGBTQIA+ survey that led to the planning of a LGBTQIA+ member meetup scheduled for June, and has initiated an upcoming session for members with disabilities to share resources. The DEIC also advised on the Indie Next List Reading Group Guide and helped ABA advocate for nontraditional store models.
    • A report on ABA’s second virtual Winter Institute. Hill noted that almost 2,000 people attended the three-day event, which featured 140 authors, eight educational sessions, three keynotes, poetry interludes, rep picks, social events, expo booths, and more. More than 70 percent of the attendees responded to the post-event survey that they were either “very satisfied” or “satisfied” overall. Hill reported, too, that feedback during the event debrief with publisher sponsors was very positive.
    • An update on ABA’s new relationship with Oprah’s Book Club (OBC). Its website has added IndieBound buttons for the April picks, indie bookstores are being given advance notice about the book club picks, OBC has launched an ongoing IndieLove campaign on Instagram stories highlighting independent bookstores, and OprahDaily.com featured an article about Independent Bookstore Day (IBD). In addition, Oprah did a video for Independent Bookstore Day and OBC created IBD social media assets.
  • Welcomed new Board director Danny Caine of Raven Book Store in Lawrence, Kansas, to the Board. (Caine was recently elected to a three-year term along with Board members Jake Cumsky-Whitlock of Solid State Books in Washington, D.C.; Kelly Estep of Carmichael’s Bookstore in Louisville, Kentucky; Melanie Knight of Books Inc. in San Francisco, California; and Angela Maria Spring of Duende District in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Washington, D.C.) The Board also welcomed Michelle Malonzo of Changing Hands in Tempe, Arizona, who was appointed after joining the board to serve the remainder of director Chris Morrow's two-year term, which ends in 2022.
  • Heard a report from CEO Hill and COO Joy Dallanegra-Sanger about the upcoming meetings with representatives of publishing houses to discuss issues of mutual interest. Meeting agendas were informed by the recent survey of members about publisher issues and concerns.
  • Heard a report from CFO PK Sindwani on ABA’s finances, and met with Williams Jones Investment Management representatives John Cummings, partner and senior fixed income portfolio manager, and Tom MacCowatt, partner and senior equity portfolio manager, to review the performance of the association’s investment portfolio. This was the first report from Williams Jones since the Board approved a modification to the ABA investment policy regarding socially responsible investing criteria. (The most recent ABA Consolidated Financial Statements — including independent auditors’ report — and tax form 990 are available now on BookWeb.org’s About ABA page.)
  • After a discussion about current business conditions and member needs, the Board unanimously voted to approve a motion that ABA would offer bookstore members one month of dues relief and would suspend the service fee/commission of 1 percent on IndieCommerce and IndieLite e-commerce sales for two months. (The existing e-commerce fee structure provides a $500 monthly cap on the amount charged.)
  • Voted to approve President Fiocco’s recommendation of Tegan Tigani of Queen Anne Book Company in Seattle, Washington, as the new ABA Nominating Committee chair, and a new nominating committee of four booksellers. The new Nominating Committee is comprised of:

    • ABA Board member Tegan Tigani, chair, Queen Anne Book Company, Seattle, Washington
    • ABA Board member Jake Cumsky-Whitlock, Solid State Books, Washington, D.C.
    • Kelsey April, Bank Square Books, Mystic, Connecticut, and Savoy Bookshop and Café, Westerly, Rhode Island
    • Tina Ferguson, Face in a Book, El Dorado Hills, California
    • Steve Haruch, Parnassus Books, Nashville, Tennessee
  • Accepted the report of the association’s Governance Review Committee and expressed its thanks to the members of the committee for their work: Kimberly Daniels Taws of The Country Bookshop in Southern Pines, North Carolina; Alyson Turner of Source Booksellers in Detroit, Michigan; and Annie Philbrick of Bank Square Books in Mystic, Connecticut, and Savoy Bookshop & Café in Westerly, Rhode Island. The full report along with the board’s response can be found on BookWeb.org.
  • The Board discussed a letter from a bookstore member expressing concern about a perceived governance conflict of interest precipitated by any Board member’s membership in the Independent Booksellers Consortium (IBC), a private booksellers group. Stressing very strong faith in the board members who are also members of the IBC, the member said they believed that the concern was not specific to current board members but an important issue of transparent and ethical governance.
    After discussion, President Fiocco said that incoming Board President Graham would respond to the member and that the Board would have focused discussions regarding best board governance policies regarding potential conflicts of interest and duality of loyalties among Board members. The Board also agreed to bring in a board ethics expert to advise on the matter by the next Board meeting.
  • Heard an update on IndieCommerce (IC) from CEO Hill. The IC team is continuing to improve functionality of the current IC and IndieLite platforms and is attempting to convince POS vendors to help in moving forward with full POS integration. Two POS vendors have shown promising movement. Two new modern template designs are also underway. The proposed vendor for Drupal 9, shopping cart, and other upgrades is finalizing their discovery phase. Their report was still being completed at the time of the meeting, but preliminary results indicate that this part of the upgrade is more complex than anticipated. The cost may be greater than anticipated, and there are some unforeseen issues being explored now.
  • As part of its role of monitoring future trends and defining desired long-term outcomes, the Board met with Brian David Johnson, Intel Corporation's first futurist and current professor at Arizona State University's Global Futures Laboratory and School for the Future of Innovation in Society. Johnson discussed with the Board his work in “futurecasting,” or envisioning future scenarios and better planning to achieve desired outcomes. (Johnson delivered an opening keynote address at the recent Winter Institute, “How to Think Like a Futurist.”) As an example, Johnson noted how he had worked with such organizations as the Corporate Housing Providers Association to help them utilize a process to combine a wide range of inputs in order to imagine a broader range of future threat events. That done, organizations can look backward from the imagined futures and build strategy on the steps needed to disrupt, mitigate, and recover from these future threats. As examples of the sorts of important indicators that might flag key changes, Johnson noted possible instances of “vaccine escape” of COVID-19 variants or changes in corporate risk assessment for business travel.
  • At the conclusion of the meeting, the 2021–2022 ABA Board convened, with new Board member Caine, and the newly elected Graham presiding as association president. In its first action, the new Board moved to fill a vacancy on the Board that is the result of the election of Graham as ABA’s new president.
    Under ABA’s bylaws, the office of the president is separate and distinct from that of a Board director, and with Grahams’ election as the association’s president, his current position as a Board director became vacant.
    Upon consideration, the Board unanimously approved the appointment of Cynthia Compton of 4 Kids Books & Toys in Zionsville, Indiana, to fill the vacancy until the next ABA Board election, in spring 2022. At that time, Compton will be eligible to be nominated to run for a full three-year term as a Board member.
  • Outgoing president Fiocco expressed the association’s deep appreciation and thanks to outgoing Board member Pete Mulvihill of Green Apple Books in San Francisco, California, and to the now-retired Morrow. Incoming president Graham and the entire Board offered deep thanks and gratitude to Fiocco for her extraordinary service to ABA.