SIBA Unveils a New Trade Show Schedule

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version

By Rona Brinlee, Owner, The Bookmark in Atlantic Beach, Florida

The Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance (SIBA) held its fall trade show from Friday, September 28, through Sunday, September 30, at the Hilton Atlanta in Georgia. The show featured a new schedule -- with the exhibit floor opening at 5:00 p.m. on Saturday and staying open until 10:00 p.m. The format change was much discussed by SIBA booksellers, with very few having no opinion at all.

The weekend began with tours of area bookstores on Thursday, and on Friday an opening breakfast featuring author Daniel Pink (A Whole New Mind, Riverhead) was followed by educational sessions. With no access to exhibits until late on Saturday, many publishers and booksellers delayed their arrivals. SIBA Executive Director Wanda Jewell explained this was a consideration in trying the new schedule -- to allow publishers to set up a day later and save on expenses.

Despite the change in the trade floor schedule, many early educational sessions were well attended, with more than 50 people at some programs. Seasoned booksellers shared the podium with American Booksellers Association staff at three sessions, "Building and Rewarding Customer Loyalty," "Creating Killer Events," and "Bookstore Self Audit." Booksellers from G.J. Ford on St. Simon's Island and Prince Books in Norfolk took the challenge of auditing their stores according to seven criteria at the self-audit panel, moderated by ABA COO Oren Teicher. The participants ranked the importance of each criterion and then evaluated how well they thought their stores were performing. All agreed this self-audit is good as a regular check and is especially critical if a store is facing new competition. The importance of good service and having the right inventory was acknowledged by booksellers from stores of all ages who agreed that price is not the issue for them or for their customers.

First-timers, sporting stars on their badges, sat alongside veteran booksellers at the educational sessions, and the interaction was often enlightening. No matter how many years of experience, there was something for everyone. Small, newer stores were encouraged to host events, and old-timers were reassured that events are well worth doing. They were also reminded to tend to some things that often get relegated to the end of the list by seemingly more urgent items. Nancy Olson, owner of 24-year-old Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, North Carolina, shared tips for press kits, targeted e-mails, and authorless events, including ticketed wine tastings. When advised not to be afraid of controversy, experienced booksellers nodded in agreement, but they added, a good facilitator is critical. There was no caveat necessary to the exhortation that events keep stores profitable and help build the reputation as a place to go -- where things are always happening.

Proving you can never hear an important message too many times, one bookseller said she learned more the second time she participated in the session on loyalty programs. The first time encouraged her to introduce a loyalty program in the store. This weekend, only three weeks after instituting the program, her questions were different and other aspects of the presentation had much more relevance. The atmosphere at all of the sessions echoed the mantra offered by ABA's Teicher -- we are lucky to be in an industry where people are generous and willing to share ideas.

Despite a late night with some funny and entertaining authors at the annual SIBA supper and an even later night previewing the Kite Runner movie, hearty sales reps were ready on Saturday morning to highlight their book picks for the next season. Perhaps because there was no competition from the trade show floor, and certainly because of the enthusiasm of these reps, booksellers flocked to hear publishers recommend their favorite books. Whereas last year reps reported audiences of often less than 20 or so, this year they were surprised by crowds numbering more than 100. Most were booksellers at stores that do not see publishers' reps, and they seized this opportunity to hear the pitches that comprise a sales call.

Authors were sighted throughout the hotel lobby. Jeff Lindsay (Dexter in the Dark, Doubleday) sported the hand-painted shirt that appears on his book jacket. A close look revealed not a random pattern, but rather bloody daggers representative of his loveable serial killer. And some lucky booksellers got the chance to sip wine and chat with this year's winner of the SIBA award for fiction, Charles Frazier (Thirteen Moons, Random House).

Outgoing SIBA President Sally Brewster of Charlotte, North Carolina's Park Road Books said show attendance had increased this year and noted a number of sold-out events. Jewell confirmed early counts of more than 225 bookstores, 187 vendors, and approximately 100 authors, adding that the show traditionally draws well in Atlanta. In addition, publishers reported brisk ordering, and thought crowds were good until about 9:00 p.m. on Saturday evening, when the need for dinner perhaps overcame the interest in books. The 8:00 a.m. opening on Sunday might have felt early for some, for coffee was ubiquitous, with boxes of donuts stashed behind more than a few booths.

As the show wound down, Jewell said most attendees were happy with the new schedule, although some who had been angry about the changes remained upset. She said it was not yet decided whether SIBA will repeat this schedule next year, when the show will be held in Mobile, Alabama, and noted that she did agree that the floor hours should shift to open and close earlier, and that more needed to happen that appeals to the more experienced attendees.

Another topic stirring up debate at the show were changes to the SIBA book awards that would bring critics into the final selection process and move the announcement of the winners to the Decatur Book Festival instead of the trade show.

By the end of the show, as always, friendships were renewed and forged; news of stores, babies, and retirement were shared; and mentors were found. All left reinvigorated and eager to implement new ideas for the holidays.

Booksellers who stopped by the ABA booth at any one of this season's trade shows are eligible to enter drawings for prizes, courtesy of ABA and BookExpo America. At SIBA, Peter Yurko of Osondu Booksellers in Waynesville, North Carolina, won a color inkjet printer, courtesy of ABA, and Beth Carpenter of The Country Bookshop in Southern Pines, North Carolina, won an iPod, courtesy of BEA.

Both winners, along with other booksellers who dropped off their business cards at the ABA booth, will be included in drawings taking place at the end of October, at the conclusion of the trade show season: for accommodations at Hotel ABA at BEA 2008 in Los Angeles, courtesy of BEA; for hotel accommodations at the Third Annual Winter Institute in Louisville in January, courtesy of BEA; and for one of 24 publisher-sponsored scholarships, including reasonable transportation costs and up to a three-night hotel stay at the Winter Institute.