Town Hall Report 2021

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ABA Ends Policies

(As revised by the ABA Board of Directors in January 2021)

The American Booksellers Association exists so that its core membership of independent bookstores can operate successfully as sustainable businesses and constitute a vital channel in the U.S. book market. This will be achieved at a level that justifies the resources invested while ensuring the association’s long-term financial sustainability. This also will be done in a manner that demonstrates a commitment to antiracism, inclusion, representation, and diversity.

The ABA has four broad tasks — education, promotion, partnership, and advocacy. Accordingly, the association will work to ensure that:

  1. Core members have the necessary skills, education, technology, community (including other independent businesses), and resources to be successful and financially sustainable.
  2. The general public have an awareness and understanding of the cultural and economic value of independent bookstores.
  3. The book industry views independent bookstores as vital and valued partners.
  4. Legal and regulatory policies reflect the interests of independent bookstores in such areas as antitrust action, small business assistance, and the First Amendment right to disseminate information as it relates to the bookselling industry.


ABA Town Hall Report 2021

Since the 2020 Town Hall, ABA has taken action on topics discussed and issues raised at that town hall. They include:


Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Members raised concerns about safety for BIPOC members at ABA events, BIPOC representation on the board, microaggressions in the industry, and support of BIPOC members. To address these concerns, as well as support other underrepresented groups, this past year ABA:

  • Conducted ABA’s first bookstore and bookseller demographic survey in order to better understand who ABA’s members are and to use this data to better serve and support all members. The survey was created with significant input from the Committee on Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEIC), ABA staff, and several bookstore members. 
  • Waived fees for new BIPOC members and worked to better communicate with Black-owned bookstores. Since June 2020, 52 BIPOC-owned stores have joined ABA.
  • Reinstated and refocused the Committee on Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEIC). Since the last Town Hall meeting, DEIC has defined the committee’s purpose and goals and successfully onboarded, with full committee input and support, new bookseller committee members, with members who had served for more than three years transitioning off. The list of committee members can be found here. Members of the DEIC self-identify as neurodivergent, disabled, fat, Latinx/Chicano/Mexican, LGBTQIA+, Indigenous, Chinese American, African American, Black, and Afro Caribbean/American. They are representative of a mix of store size, model, owner/bookseller, region, and industry tenure. This committee also became a pipeline to the board with three current and/or former DEIC members currently serving on the ABA board. 
  • Initiated, with input from DEIC, an LGBTQIA+ survey that led to the planning of an LGBTQIA+ member meetup scheduled for June, and an upcoming session for members with disabilities to share resources.
  • ABA instituted monthly BIPOC Zoom meetup meetings, where booksellers and bookstore owners can gather for connection, support, community, resources, and networking. To ensure that this space belongs to the attendees, ABA staff are not in attendance and a meetup attendee acts as host. There are periodic surveys about the needs of participants
  • At the suggestion of member store Left Bank Books, IndieCommerce added a “Preferred Name/Chosen Name” field to the checkout process. 
  • ABA began working with a group of partners to research issues regarding book deserts, communities without bookstores, and obstacles to capital for opening a bookstore, especially  for BIPOC communities and underrepresented prospective bookstore owners.
  • Created a resource page for Black Lives Matter and a diversity resource page on Bookweb.
  • Raised members’ concerns regarding specific instances of inappropriate terms, microaggressions, and cultural appropriation with publishers.
  • In recent publisher meetings ABA lobbied for more representation within publisher sales forces and other ways that the industry can institutionalize their diversity efforts. 
  • Made changes in the way ABA works with publishers to bring authors to Winter Institute in order to institutionalize representation. As a result, 65 percent of authors in attendance at the 2021 Winter Institute identified as BIPOC. A significant number of authors identified as diverse in other ways as well. 
  • Centered sessions at Winter Institute on representation and equity in mind: All You Need is Love: LGBTQ+ Romance; Creating a Work Environment that Embraces Access, Equity & Justice; and Neurodiversity at Work.
  • Institutionalized a land acknowledgement policy for all ABA conferences that includes a statement along with a regular donation to the American Indian College Fund. 
  • Conducted an ABA staff training on antiracism, and scheduled quarterly staff meetings to discuss matters related to equity bringing articles to the group for discussion. ABA also conducted antiracism training for board directors and ABA members; de-escalation training for members and BIPOC members; and microaggression training for members.  
  • Hosted quarterly BIPOC forums or staff to hear directly about BIPOC members’ needs and concerns, and to offer support. 
  • Revised ABA’s code of conduct twice in the last year, most recently expanding it to address the issue of microaggressions.
  • Added ASL and closed captioning to many ABA conference events and/or recordings.


ABA Governance

There was discussion at the Town Hall about the association’s governance structure. Since Town Hall 2020:

  • To further diversity, equity, and inclusion and to establish a more representative Board of Directors, ABA put before the members for approval bylaws changes that increased the number of Board members from 11 to 13 and that stipulated that the ABA Board will include at least four booksellers who are Black, Indigenous, or People of Color, at least two of whom are Black. The changes were approved overwhelmingly by the membership in July 2020
  • ABA actively promoted the Board nomination and election process to improve accessibility, visibility, and engagement. The result was the largest number of Board nominees, the most diverse group of Board nominees, and the largest voter turnout in decades.
  • In January, the ABA Board approved new Ends Policies.The Board noted that the changes were made to make the association goals more transparent and explicit and to state the association’s commitment to antiracism, inclusion, representation, and diversity.


Free Speech

There was a discussion at the Town Hall about free speech and how it relates to support of BIPOC booksellers. Since Town Hall 2020:

  • The ABA board rewrote the ends policies to ensure that ABA continues its work to support the First Amendment right to disseminate information as it relates to the bookselling industry while ensuring that ABA’s commitment to antiracism, inclusion, representation, and diversity is paramount. 
  • American Booksellers for Free Expression (ABFE) continued its support of the First Amendment right to disseminate information as it relates to the bookselling industry:

    • ABFE organized and sent out 2020 Banned Books Week kits, reminded booksellers about Ingram’s discount on banned and challenged books, and advertised the American Library Association’s ideas for virtual Banned Books Week events.
    • As part of the Kids’ Right to Read Project, ABFE wrote Clark County (Nevada) School District regarding its peremptory removal of the graphic novel Fun Home from the reading list of a tenth grade English Honors class at Palo Verde High School. The district had apparently violated its own regulations by removing the book without following the mandated procedures for the review of challenged instructional material.
    • ABFE wrote, as part of the Kids’ Right to Read Project, the Governing Board of the Vail School District in Vail, Arizona, commending the district for convening a diverse committee of educators and stakeholders to review Slaughterhouse-Five, rather than summarily removing the book due to pressure from a parent. 
    • ABFE wrote to the Board of Education Kingsburg Elementary Charter School District in Kingsburg, California, urging them to return Ghost Boys to the curriculum after protest led to removal. 
    • ABA signed a statement in support of the free press following an eruption of Black Lives Matter protests after the murder of George Floyd in which professional journalists and citizen journalists alike were met with unwarranted agression from police officers. 
    • ABA joined a coalition of free speech and privacy groups in sending a letter to House leadership calling for the inclusion of an important privacy-protective amendment in the USA FREEDOM Reauthorization Act of 2020 (H.R. 6172). 
    • ABFE has been working to assist an incarcerated person in Missouri who wrote saying that prison officials have told him that he is not allowed to write a book while in prison. After a number of communications with state legislative committees and the Missouri Department of Corrections, ABFE gained some clarity of the policy in question and is now working with Media Coalition and Emerson Sykes of the ACLU to determine what might be done to assist the prisoner.



There was discussion at the Town Hall about IndieCommerce, including support, features, and costs. Since Town Hall 2020:

  • Finnegan Butterfield of Towne Center Books in Pleasanton, California, and Murray Sampson, formerly of Secret Garden Books in Seattle, Washington, joined ABA as additional IndieCommerce Customer Support Specialists. 
  • To help bookstores respond to the unprecedented growth in online sales following the COVID-19 outbreak, IndieCommerce improved its infrastructure to accommodate increased customer traffic and more online transactions. IndieCommerce also introduced a number of new tools and features. Among the enhancements are:

    • a new bulk order processing feature
    • a picklist feature to note which items should be taken from inventory to fulfill open orders
    • bulk printing of invoices
    • local store inventory (LSI) only option
    • custom checkout pane for store gift cards
    • a feature to allow customers to use their preferred name rather than their legal name
    • a feature allowing IndieCommerce stores that use local store inventory (LSI) so that their in-store inventory is visible to customers on their website to see their inventory and Ingram’s inventory when processing online orders
    • a feature allowing stores to remove specific titles from IndieCommerce individual websites
    • adding an “Add to Wishlist” button alongside “Add to Cart”
    • added an “Ask a Bookseller” feature, which creates an opportunity for an online customer to communicate with a bookseller 
  • IndieCommerce launched a new customer support ticketing system to improve communications and resolve issues more efficiently
  • IndieCommerce began a new monthly webinar series for booksellers using the IndieCommerce and IndieLite ecommerce platforms
  • ABA offered a 2021 virtual IndieCommerce Institute, which focused on helping stores manage website content, improve conversion rates, and review all the new tools and features added to the IndieCommerce platform
  • The IndieCommerce team met one-on-one with stores in a virtual setting during the 2020 Children’s Institute and 2021 Winter Institute to either discuss or train on IndieCommerce and IndieLite. In addition, one-on-one meetings were open to all booksellers, whether or not they attended the events.
  • The IndieCommerce team led a number of educational webinars to help IndieCommerce and IndieLite bookstores as they entered Q4 of 2020 and began an unprecedented holiday season for online sales. Webinar topics included holiday marketing, managing online orders in bulk, and more. 
  • The IndieCommerce team presented a virtual education session at fall regional trade shows



There was discussion at the Town Hall about Advocacy, including Amazon and pandemic relief. Since Town Hall 2020 ABA:

  • Communicated extensively with members regarding COVID-19 relief assistance during the height of the pandemic, providing and updating summaries and explanations of federal and state loans and grants, with links to timely and accurate information. 
  • Conducted extensive lobbying of U.S. Senate and House leadership and the Senate and House small business committees — as well as Treasury Secretary Mnuchin — urging bipartisan action for ongoing federal assistance to support small businesses. ABA’s message was that any relief package include adequate funding for the USPS; updates to the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP); continued funding for Economic Injury Disaster Loans and grants; targeted funds for state and local governments for testing and rent and mortgage relief; an eviction moratorium; and a long-term business recovery fund.
  • Met with the offices of Senator Tillis, Speaker Pelosi, Senator Collins, Senator Romney, and Senator Schumer about the need for additional COVID-19 relief. Bookstore members accompanied the Advocacy team to some of these meetings.
  • Created a template letter/call script for members to contact their lawmakers about additional federal assistance for small businesses.
  • Worked with bookstore members to set up meetings with key legislators to discuss COVID-19 relief for small businesses.
  • Drafted a template op-ed about the importance of the USPS for bookstores to customize and publish in their local or regional newspapers.
  • Continued to communicate and meet with the Senate and House Small Business Committees to keep them informed about the needs of independent bookstores.
  • Researched and wrote a comprehensive brief about the need to investigate Amazon’s anti-competitive business practices. The white paper was sent to U.S. state Attorneys General and the National Association of Attorneys General, key members of Congress (including Senator Klobuchar, who has introduced an antitrust enforcement bill), as well as press and others. (On May 25, Karl Racine, the attorney general for the District of Columbia, announced that the district was suing Amazon, accusing it of artificially raising prices for products around the web by abusing its monopoly power. Racine was one of the attorneys general that had received ABA’s white paper.) 
  • Joined other organizations calling for Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos to testify before the House Judiciary Committee about Amazon’s anticompetitive actions related to its third-party marketplace.
  • Co-wrote a letter with Association of American Publishers (AAP) and The Authors Guild thanking Representative David Cicilline, Chair of the House Judiciary Committee’s Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law Subcommittee, for the committee’s work and ensuring that the book industry’s antitrust and Amazon concerns were on record and included in the committee’s final report.
  • Met with the House Judiciary’s Subcommittee on Antitrust in collaboration with the Author’s Guild and the American Association of Publishers to offer testimony and urge for a comprehensive report into Amazon.
  • Co-sponsored, with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and other business groups, an antitrust virtual event featuring Congressman Cicilline.
  • Joined with other independent business groups to form a coalition called Small Business Rising. Organized by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, the group is asking policymakers to build an economy that is more prosperous, equitable, and innovative by fighting monopoly power and leveling the playing field.  
  • ABA implemented new software that allows the Advocacy team to more efficiently stay on top of key legislative and regulatory updates. The software has a database of key contact information for federal and state lawmakers and allows ABA members to easily contact their lawmakers with a one-click tool and for ABA to track legislators’ responsives to help coordinate effective followup. The software will help significantly in accomplishing the ends policy goal that legal and regulatory policy will reflect the interests of independent bookstores. So far, the Advocacy team has had 35 meetings with and sent 28 letters to lawmakers’ offices or departments. They are also currently tracking more than 200 bills in 39 states. 
  • ABA launched an Introduction to New Lawmakers Advocacy Campaign in January for booksellers who had new members in Congress; 31 booksellers sent 39 messages to 19 federal lawmakers. ABA also sent letters to all new members of Congress to introduce the organization.
  • ABA launched an advocacy campaign urging booksellers to reach out to state officials and to encourage them to support independent Main Street retailers entering the recovery phase of the pandemic; 137 users sent 529 messages to 369 state lawmakers. ABA also wrote to key state lawmakers in all 50 states with a similar message.


Health Care

At the Town Hall members asked about ABA’s work to provide health insurance options. ABA’s partnership with Lighthouse Insurance Group (LIG) Solutions had just been announced. Since the 2020 Town Hall:

  • With LIG’s assistance 162 total policies are now in effect for ABA members and 7 stores started an HRA program for their employees. 


Finances / ABACUS

At the Town Hall members asked about the status of the ABACUS financial survey. Since the 2020 Town Hall:

  • After a year’s hiatus due to the pandemic, in April ABA restarted ABACUS. The ABACUS reports for this reporting cycle will cover both 2019 and 2020 financial results, providing participating stores with a user-friendly overview of the economy with regards to the impact of COVID-19, informative graphs, and interpretive information. The deadline for submitting to ABACUS is Monday, May 31. In the meantime ABA conducted a financial snapshot of members in June 2020 and again in January 2021.

Bookshop was discussed during the Town Hall. Since the 2020 Town Hall, and as of April 2021, Bookshop has: 

  • Raised more than $13.6 million for indie bookstores. (This includes pool distributions and affiliate fees to date.)
  • Signed up more than 1,127 bookstores as affiliates and 1,195 bookstores in the profit share pool.
  • Observed 2,000 people a day visiting Bookshop’s Store Finder looking for an independent bookstore.
  • Supported Black-owned bookstores in various ways. (As of April 2021, six of the top 10 stores on are black-owned bookstores. Black-owned stores have earned more than $2 million on Bookshop.)
  • Donated $250,000 to Binc’s Survive to Thrive campaign to support bookstores
  • Continued to be responsive to ABA’s input and bookseller feedback about best practices to support independent bookstores:

    • Bookshop made programming changes to help ensure that customers who are affiliated with a store will not permanently lose that affiliation should they purchase a title from, for example, a media site affiliated
    • Bookshop arranged for  all of the links in all of their emails to be universal, meaning that the bookstore affiliate on Bookshop still receives the benefit of any and all sales from Bookshop emails (as long as their customer is cookied/affiliated with them, and as long as the customer has not switched store affiliation on their end).
    • Bookshop has ensured that ABA bookstore affiliates on Bookshop are the only affiliates who have full access to their Bookshop customer's email addresses. They can access this customer info at any time from their Affiliate Dashboards. Booksellers can download their Bookshop customer data themselves, email them and direct them to their store website, and offer to add them to their store email lost.  



Since the 2020 Town Hall: 

  • ABA continued to offer Batch both feedback and assistance in communicating with the book industry. 
  • ABA lobbied publishers to adopt Batch to better support bookstores.
  • ABA surveyed members about Batch with respondents indicating they found Batch to be valuable, or they would find it to be very valuable to their business if more publishers would sign on.  
  • Since the last Town Hall, Batch has

    • Completed integration with the QuickBooks desktop and hosted versions
    • Signed up 125 bookstores to date
    • Covered, and continues to cover, wiring costs for stores.
    • Continued discussions with POS vendors to integrate Batch. 


Other Topics

  • In response to a member expressing concern about the discontinuation of the print Indie Next List, the print Indie Next List was reinstated in August 2020. Since then the program has been refreshed and expanded. 

  • In response to member concerns about damages, ABA has continued to lobby publishers for improvement in this area. Recently, data from a member survey was shared with publishers along with best practices for improving the quantity of damages and the processing of damages. ABA is currently lobbying publishers for portals to streamline the processing of damages in its annual meetings with publishers. 

  • Members expressed the need for more genre events and support. In response, ABA added genre programming to both Children’s Institute 2020 and Winter Institute 2021. ABA’s holiday gift guide focused on genre titles, and we have an upcoming genre marketing meetup on June 3rd, 2021.

About ABA

The American Booksellers Association, a national not-for-profit trade organization, works with booksellers and industry partners to ensure the success and profitability of independently owned book retailers, and to assist in expanding the community of the book.

Independent bookstores act as community anchors; they serve a unique role in promoting the open exchange of ideas, enriching the cultural life of communities, and creating economically vibrant neighborhoods.


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