Virtual Winter Institute Has Booksellers Looking to the Future

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Last week, nearly 2,000 attendees joined the American Booksellers Association’s 16th annual Winter Institute, which was held virtually from February 18 to 20.

Virtual programming kicked off on Thursday with a special video reflecting on the resilience and motivation of booksellers in 2020. It featured a photo montage of booksellers adjusting to widespread closures due to COVID-19, handling a massive increase in online orders, protesting against racism and police brutality, and more.

Attendees then watched a special address from President Barack Obama, in which he shared his experience as a lifelong reader. He spoke about finding books by Ralph Ellison, Langston Hughes, Robert Penn Warren, Dostoyevsky, and more at a rummage sale in his youth. The books expanded his mind, filled his spirit, and helped him develop his budding identity. “What happened to me, you’re providing for so many other kids and teenagers and adults around the world,” he said. “You aren’t selling books. You’re selling knowledge. Discovery. Wisdom. Empathy. Access to thoughts and worlds that readers have never experienced before.”

“As a reader and an author,” he added, “I couldn’t be more grateful for the work you do every single day.”

The morning continued with words from ABA CEO Allison K Hill, who acknowledged the extraordinary journey booksellers have been on for the past year.  

“We’ve been in this kind of Groundhog Day limbo throughout 2020, but things are shifting and opening up and now seems the perfect time to move forcefully and fearlessly into what comes next. We move forward knowing that we are stronger and more resilient as a channel than we ever imagined. We move forward with the knowledge that your communities need you more than we even knew. And we move forward knowing that what we do this year, this transition year of 2021, will define the years to come.”

While Dr. Brené Brown’s opening keynote had to be rescheduled for Saturday, February 20, due to the winter storms in Texas, the institute instead opened with futurist Brian David Johnson in conversation with Hill for the keynote “How to Think Like a Futurist,” a conversation about how to shape what comes next for bookstores. Read a recap of the discussion in BTW and watch the recording here.

Friday’s keynote featured Lauren Groff, Colson Whitehead, and Viet Thanh Nguyen, with moderator Michelle Malonzo of Changing Hands, in a discussion on the state of literature in the aftermath of political upheaval, as well as their upcoming books. Read a recap of the discussion in BTW and watch the recording here.

On Saturday, booksellers were thrilled to welcome Brené Brown and Janet Geddis of Avid Bookshop for a conversation about moving forward from a place of vulnerability, resilience, and courage. Read a recap of the discussion in BTW and watch the recording here.

A favorite of the institute was the Poetry Interludes — five-minute videos of poetry readings featuring Amanda Gorman, Warsan Shire, Ross Gay, torrin a. greathouse, and Chris Martin. Commentary from booksellers in the chat ranged from praise for the individual poets to requests for interludes at institutes to come.

Education sessions included the following; watch the Education Resources page on BookWeb for session recordings in the coming weeks:

  • Customer Experience and Hand-selling/Upselling in a Hybrid World
  • Creating a Work Environment That Embraces Access, Equity, and Justice
  • Financial Series Part 1: Q1 Check-in: Planning Today for a Successful 2021
  • Managing Online Sales Growth
  • All You Need Is Love: LGBTQ+ Romance
  • Neurodiversity at Work
  • New Labor Laws and Best Practices in the Time of COVID

Throughout the three days, booksellers visited publishers and business partners in the Expo area, met with the IndieCommerce team for one-on-ones, and visited the Virtual Galley Room to request print and e-galleys.

Author Socials offered the opportunity to join genre-specific rooms and talk with debut and longtime authors. Publisher sales reps appeared at Rep Picks presentations to share upcoming titles.

Despite the event being virtual, the institute’s Bookseller-to-Bookseller Discussion Groups, Virtual Hangouts, and the BIPOC Meetup gave booksellers the chance to talk face-to-face and meet new colleagues from around the country.

Winter Institute finished out with the ABA Trivia Night Fundraiser for the Binc Foundation, which raised more than $2,600 for the Book Industry Charitable Foundation.

Bookseller who attended the 2021 Winter Institute are asked to fill out a survey about their experience to help ABA plan for future events.

In addition, ABA extends its gratitude to all of the Winter Institute publisher partner and business partner sponsors who helped make the event possible.