Upbeat NCIBA Trade Show: Attendance Up and Bonds Up to Bat

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The 2002 Northern California Independent Booksellers Association (NCIBA) Trade Show was held at the Oakland Convention Center in Oakland, California, from October 4 - 6. Hut Landon, executive director for NCIBA, told BTW that the mood at this year's show was upbeat, and, overall, there was a slight increase in attendance -- even on Sunday, when the Giants, A's, and 49ers were all vying for Bay Area attention. "I was very pleasantly surprised to hear from exhibitors that attendance on Sunday was up from years past, despite the fact that two playoff games were happening, and there was a football game," Landon told BTW. "[The show] was great, the workshops went smoothly, there were no problems."

Comments from both Landon and a number of booksellers indicated that attendees at this year's show were in good spirits, despite reports that sales in Northern California had been slow this past summer. "I think people were expressing concerns about the summer, but I didn't feel anyone was moaning and groaning," said Amy Thomas, owner of Pegasus Books, in Berkeley, California. "We had a real tourism drop…. Generally, we really felt it. It's hard to have a recurrence of even a little bit of hard times. People were making their plans, figuring how they were going to cope with the next few months. But I didn't think people were pessimistic. I thought people seemed happy to be hanging out with each other."

Adam Schnitzer, a buyer at Green Apple Books in San Francisco, noted that last year's show was somber because it "had the grave misfortune of occurring on the weekend we started bombing Afghanistan. This year, personally, I felt apprehension -- wondering how folks were going to be doing, but everyone seemed buoyant, and everybody seemed to feel good about the show."

Landon said that 1,000 booksellers representing approximately 150 to 200 bricks-and-mortar bookstores attended the show, as did another 300 made up of online and gift stores employees or owners, authors, agents, and publishing professionals. Additionally, there were another 1,000 professionals representing 150 exhibitors.

One of the hottest tickets of this year's show was the NCIBA first annual "Moveable Feast," where attending booksellers were able to spend time with more than 12 guest authors, who moved from table to table. "We were obviously concerned about doing it right, but it went very smoothly -- in part because we had a wonderful committee that put this thing together," said Landon. "The chemistry worked, the authors were gracious, and booksellers had a good time talking to the authors. We can't really take credit for it, it just worked."

The dinner, held on Saturday evening, featured Scott Turow (Reversible Errors, FSG), Maxine Hong Kingston (To Be the Poet, Harvard University Press), Dave Barry (Tricky Business, Putnam), Sebastian Junger (Fire, ReganBooks), Joanne Harris (Coastliners, William Morrow), Thomas Steinbeck (Down to a Soundless Sea, Ballantine), Martin Cruz Smith (December 6, S&S), Aimee Liu (Flash House, Warner), Daniel Mason (The Piano Tuner, Knopf), Ian Stewart (Ambushed, Algonquin), Wendelin Van Draanen (Sammy Keyes and the Search for Snake Eyes, Knopf), and D.L. Smith (The Miracles of Santo Fico, Warner). The event was sponsored by the AOL Time Warner Book Group and Jimtown Store in Healdsburg donated the wine.

NCIBA's fall show began on Friday, October 4, with a full day of educational programming. "Friday's workshops were very well received across the board," noted Landon, who added that ABA's educational programming earned good reviews from Friday's workshop attendees.

Over 50 people attended ABA's morning session, "Budgeting and Monitoring Workshop," led by ABA CEO Avin Mark Domnitz. In the workshop, Domnitz discussed how booksellers could implement a system of financial controls allowing them to predict performance and then measure outcomes against those predictions. "One of the best attended sessions was Avin's finance seminar," Landon said. "He conducted it for us in the spring and we had 35 to 40 people then, and some of those returned for this session. It's something he does very well."

Carolina Clare, co-owner of NorthLight Books and Cafe in Cotati, California, and NCIBA Board member, expressed similar sentiments. "Avin's panel was a huge hit," she said. "Everyone was talking about it later. It was very good and very comprehensive, and there's something uplifting about it."

Later that day, ABA's 90-minute session, "Succession Planning" addressed a number of key issues regarding valuing and selling businesses. Ivan Barkhorn, formerly a partner at McKinsey and Company and currently a strategic consultant to ABA, moderated the session. "I heard very good things from booksellers about [the session]," Landon reported. "It was very well received."

Pegasus' Thomas made special note of the session, "How to Interview and Evaluate Employees," which discussed how to identify, hire, and retain good employees. "It was great -- very lively," she said.

Following the morning programming, the Author Luncheon featured two author speakers: H.W. Brands (The Age of Gold, Doubleday) and James Conaway (The Far Side of Eden, Houghton Mifflin). Baker & Taylor sponsored the luncheon.

Thomas noted it was SRO for the panel discussion "The Future of Independents: A New York Perspective." In this session, representatives from four New York publishers talked about the perception of independents in the publishing world and gave their opinions regarding the future of independent bookselling.

NorthLight's Clare moderated the afternoon panel discussion, "Beyond Author Events -- Bookstores as Community Centers." Here, a panel of booksellers talked about their experience with "non-traditional" events in the store and how they have expanded their stores' appeal in their communities.

About 40 people attended the panel, Clare told BTW. "A lot of people told me [the session] was such a good idea," she said. "It was real vibrant, it was very fun. We didn't talk too much, we all just said, 'This is what we do.' That's what I love about independents -- every store is so different."

Another afternoon panel was "Out of the Sideline Box -- New Income Streams," at which bookselling experts from Northern California shared their experiences with non-traditional sidelines that have increased their store's revenues.

After a long day of educational workshops, attendees relaxed and met with colleagues at the Welcome Reception, held from 5:00 p.m. - 7:00 p.m., at AJ Toppers in the Oakland Marriott Hotel. The Ingram Book Company sponsored the reception.

Saturday, October 5, started off with the Author Breakfast, which featured Daniel Ellsberg (Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and The Pentagon Papers, Viking), Frances Mayes (Swan, Broadway), and Jim Lehrer (No Certain Rest, Random House). Landon said he knew the breakfast went well "because no one complained about the food! That's always a good sign. It was a good lineup, and it went well."

The Exhibit Hall opened after the breakfast, and there were author autographings from 10:00 a.m. - 3:30 p.m. Also, at 1:00 p.m., NCIBA brought back its "Rep Picks for Store Staff," where selected reps made 10-minute presentations showcasing a few of their favorite fall titles.

At 4:00 p.m., NCIBA held its General Membership Meeting. At the meeting, ABA's Domnitz provided a brief ABA report, and NCIBA presented its annual "Friends of Independent Bookselling" awards. The recipients were Denny Smithson, a bookseller at Cody's Books in Berkeley, California, for 25 years, who has a weekly book show on KPFA Radio called "Cover to Cover"; Christopher Stroth, a Bookpeople sales rep, for his work on behalf of independents and for his great e-mail newsletter; and David Carey, publisher of The New Yorker magazine, for his ongoing support of Book Sense, both in the magazine and through sponsorship of the Book Sense Luncheon at BookExpo America.

On Sunday, October 6, the Children's Author Breakfast featured Mark Teague (Dear Mrs. LaRue, Scholastic), Rosemary Wells (Ruby's Beauty Shop, Viking, and Getting to Know You, HarperCollins), and Judy Blume (Double Fudge, Dutton Children's Books).

At noon on Sunday, Houghton Mifflin celebrated the five-year anniversary of its Mariner paperback imprint with a lunch for booksellers, which featured 10 Mariner authors, including Nicholas Clapp (The Road to Ubar), Carolyn Cooke (The Bostons), Adrianne Harun (The King of Limbo: Stories), Allen Morris Jones (Last Year's River), Anchee Min (Becoming Madame Mao), and Julia Whitty (A Tortoise for the Queen of Tonga: Stories).

Sunday afternoon's "Cookbook Celebration" gave booksellers the chance to sample great recipes from some of this fall’s finest selection of cookbooks. As in past years, it was a huge hit. "The 'Cookbook Celebration' was moved to the [trade show] floor this year," said Clare. "In previous years, it had been held upstairs, so everyone would disappear from the floor. This year there were tons of people walking around eating chili."

Clare said she spent a good portion of Sunday roaming the exhibit hall floor. "Attendance was up, and publishers were reporting that they were doing better than they did last year -- though, half the time, everybody was running upstairs to check the scores! Almost everyone I talked to was very happy. It was just good," she said. --David Grogan