Winter Institute 7 Inspires and Energizes

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The tone throughout last week’s Winter Institute was one optimism and energy. It began on Wednesday with a packed opening plenary, where Ingram Content Group President and CEO Skip Prichard told booksellers anything is possible, Ann Patchett shared her mantra “local independent bookstores are the new trend,” and ABA CEO Oren Teicher said that, contrary to predictions, 2011 was “the best year many indie booksellers had in a long time.” And it continued through the final bookseller working group activity on Friday, where Ingram Vice President and General Manager Dan Sheehan summarized the groups’ work and told booksellers, “I don’t have all the answers, but collectively we do.”

In between, there were more than 25 education sessions, nine roundtable discussions, 22 working groups, two reps’ picks lunches, three evening receptions, two breakfasts (one focusing on World Book Night, the other on small presses), an all-day Consultation Station featuring 23 vendors, a Galley Room with more than 200 great reads, and an array of additional programming. All of this was made possible by the support of the Ingram Content Group, the event’s lead sponsor, and Wi7’s publisher sponsors.

At the end of the packed, three-day program, “instead of feeling tired, booksellers were energized,” said ABA President Becky Anderson of Anderson’s Bookshops. “People were blown away.”

Kelly Justice of Fountain Bookstore in Richmond, Virginia, said this year’s institute had “spectacular energy,” and Stephanie Anderson of WORD in Brooklyn, New York, called it “vibrant” and a “much needed energy boost, a B-12 shot.”

In response to the industry’s sea changes, there was “a lot more action,” said Justice. “People have educated themselves and followed through on last year’s education. No one is asking what Twitter is anymore. They’re serious, and they’re serious about having fun, too, which is great.”

Justice added that World Book Night U.S. Executive Director Carl Lennertz had talked her into being a state captain for WBN. “I think it will do great things for the store. It’s a great thing for independent booksellers to do.” She plans to distribute her first choice title — A Reliable Wife (Robert Goolrick, Algonquin) —to a Richmond women’s shelter. (See this week’s related World Book Night story.)

While Justice was catching up on store business on her laptop, Christie Olson Day of Gallery Bookshop & Bookwinkle’s Children’s Books in Mendocino, California, stopped by and the two compared notes on Drupal, the open source software behind ABA IndieCommerce websites. “This is what I love about the Winter Institute,” said Justice, “talking with other booksellers.”

Olson Day said that there was more high energy among booksellers at the Winter Institute than she’d seen in years. “I really like the changes,” which included more sessions with numbers-driven information, including the latest Verso study and Book Stats, and a block of shorter Best Practices sessions. “I’m kind of a bean counter. I love data,” she said. And the Best Practices sessions “were full of specific information that you could steal.”

Maryelizabeth Hart, co-owner of Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego, California, told BTW: “As always, our staff who attended came away from the Winter Institute with tons of good ideas to consider and implement both from the organized programming sessions, and also from informal networking with other booksellers and publishing professionals.”

For Hart, the highlights included the “Book Industry by the Numbers” presentations (“It’s always nice to have an opportunity to have a knowledgeable person guide us through big-picture industry information”), and the Buyers Roundtable (“I came away with some nice concrete action items”). The “Benefits of Working with Social Media” session was another favorite (“Not only did I get some great ideas … it was fun and engaging!”).

Mary Beth Nebel of I Know You Like a Book in Peoria Heights, Illinois, believes that “if you go to a seminar and come away with one or two good ideas, it’s well worth attending.” But in the case of Wi7, she said, “you can multiply those ideas by 10 or 20. From the rep picks to the working groups, to World Book Night, the ideas offered by everyone at Wi7 provide a bookseller with the foundation to create new value for your store and your community.”

Reflecting the feelings of many of the attendees, Nebel added, “Beyond the ideas, the best part of ABA’s Winter Institute is meeting old and new friends to celebrate our love of books and bookselling. When I returned home, the first thing I did was go to Google Maps for the route to Kansas City, Missouri. I can’t wait to attend Wi8!”

For publishers, too, Wi7 provided inspiration, knowledge, and invaluable networking opportunities.

“Publishing, like bookselling, is about giving writers and books the second life of being in the world (I’m paraphrasing Italian poet Eugenio Montale here), of being read and talked about,” said Dan Simon, the publisher of Seven Stories Press. “Of all places, ABA’s Winter Institute is where I feel the spirit of books, of book publishing, and bookselling, the most. It’s a most inspiring place, where we’re buoyed by the feeling of having found our direction again.”

This was the first year that Milkweed Editions participated in the Winter Institute and Editor and Program Manager Patrick Thomas said, “It’s safe to say Milkweed Editions will do everything we can to get back to this show again.”

Thomas found the most useful aspect of the institute to be the reps’ picks sessions. “To be able to sit down and discuss the future of our list with the people who have, through their hand-selling and their passionate advocacy, made so many of our titles successful is simply priceless,” he said.

Carla Gray, director of adult marketing at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, said this year’s institute “in particular seemed filled with more optimism than in years past.” Of the educational programming, she said, “The e-book and digital programming was most interesting to me, especially the facts offered by [ABA Technology Director] Matt Supko that the percentage of e-book sales to total sales on ABA member websites rose from 0.7 percent in 2010 to 5.2 percent in 2011, and the total volume of business on these sites rose by 84 percent.” (See this week’s related story.)

Wi7 ended with many of the attendees vowing to meet again at Winter Institute 8, to be held in Kansas City, Missouri, from Friday, February 22, through Monday, February 25, 2013. Look for an announcement about the opening of registration sometime in the fall.

In case you missed some of BTW’s coverage from the show, here are links to coverage of the first days highlights and photos from the Thursday night Author Reception. Today’s issue includes reports on the working group summary and analysis and from the session “E-Books: What We’ve Learned and Where We’re Going.” Watch for more Wi7 coverage in upcoming editions of BTW.

Wi7 session handouts are available for download here. Rosemary Hawkins, Elizabeth Knapp, and Karen Schechner