At the American Booksellers Association's Town Hall meeting on Thursday, members discussed a range of topics, including the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign, the public battle between Amazon and Hachette, the implications of the U.S. Postal Service fulfilling Sunday deliveries for Amazon, the prospects of passing the Marketplace Fairness Act, and how best to re-create the success of California Bookstore Day in other regions and across the country.
On the subject of increasing diversity in books, Steve Bercu, owner of BookPeople in Austin, Tex., and president of the ABA, said that though there was no written program, the ABA board intends to communicate with the organizers of BookCon on the subject of the need for diversity, and that the ABA, as well as individual booksellers, are pushing for more diverse titles on an ongoing basis.
ABA members were in agreement that the public dispute between Amazon and Hachette provides independent booksellers with a great opportunity to educate their communities on Amazon's business practices and to emphasize that not only is Amazon not always as convenient as many claim but also that indies can fulfill customer needs just as quickly. ABA CEO Oren Teicher said that the organization has been discussing with Hachette, on an ongoing and frequent basis, how best they can both take advantage of the situation. Teicher hopes to get press and marketing materials in the hands of ABA members, with Hachette's help, to spread awareness of the issues and sell Hachette titles.
Later, at the annual meeting, Teicher also said that Amazon's "aggressive discounting and strong-arm tactics … have caused havoc in the last few weeks. Its recent bullying assault of a major publisher is just the latest example of a unilateral and shortsighted strategy. To put it plainly: the book industry is being held hostage by a company far more interested in selling flat screen TVs, diapers and groceries. It is clear they are prepared to sacrifice a diverse publishing ecosystem to achieve their dominance. That's not good for anyone, let alone for American consumers."
Teicher reported that little progress has been made in passing the Marketplace Fairness Act, and seemed doubtful that something on the federal level would pass before January, when a new Congress convenes, but said that significant strides in leveling the playing field have been made on a state-by-state basis. Several ABA members reported frustration in discussions with members of congress about Amazon's prospective partnership with the USPS. Though little information has been gleaned, members plan to keep contacting Congress.
California Bookstore Day, held on May 3, was a rousing success; opinion about how best to bring that success to a national level ranged widely. Though the prospect of a National Bookstore Day was tantalizing to many, others felt that much of CBD's success came from its regional and local focus. Some members wondered how stores in areas with few bookstores would fare, and many pointed to cooperating with publishers on such a scale as a potential issue. In any case, the success of California Bookstore Day has inspired both the ABA as a whole and other regional associations to consider the possibilities. --Alex Mutter
|Speaking at the Town Hall: Ken White of Books Inc., San Francisco, Calif., whose service on the ABA board just ended and who was lauded repeatedly by ABA staff and board members.
At the Annual Membership Meeting, following the Town Hall, Steve Bercu said that relations with publishers are excellent. "The meetings I've had on behalf of the ABA with our publishing partners have been dramatically better year to year," he said. "We're being taken seriously by our publishing partners. It's very productive for them and very productive for us."
The most important concrete change in the relationship between booksellers and publishers are "the upgrades in replenishment that all publishers are getting behind," Bercu said. "It began with Random House and is going through other houses step by step. It's affected my bottom line and the bottom line of others. It's a terrific step forward."
In his remarks, Oren Teicher added that since he first challenged publishers three years ago to work with independent booksellers to come up with new ways of doing business, booksellers and publishers have experimented with various new business models. Not every test succeeded, Teicher said, "but a number of them did and resulted in new terms and policies that are helping both bookstores and publishers grow and prosper. We appreciate that creativity and efforts on the part of these publishers, and I can report to that our recent round of meetings showed that they do understand independent bookstores' role in championing new titles, spurring consumer discovery, fueling early sales, and influencing purchases across all channels." He added, "We've only begun to scratch the surface as to what is possible."
Teicher spoke at length about "the indie bookstore resurgence." One measure, as noted here on Wednesday, is the ABA's increase in membership again for the fifth year in a row, to 1,664 bookstore companies representing 2,094 locations.
Another measure: strong indie sales. "After a year of robust sales growth in 2012," Teicher said, in 2013 indies held on to most of those sales gains. Bad weather this winter hurt retail across the country, but bookstore sales in the second quarter recovered, "and if those trends continue, we will have another strong year of indie sales."
In other good news, the association's finances have improved again, allowing the ABA "to continue to invest appropriately in new initiatives and programming, in response to your input and direction," Teicher said. "This past year we have invested in new programs including the Indies First promotion inspired by Sherman Alexie; our Indies Introduce effort to highlight debut authors; in new and expanded programming in children's bookselling following the merger with the Association of Booksellers for Children; and in upgrading our IndieCommerce product."
Teicher noted, too, that the media has begun to change its view of independent bookselling, adding, "We are committed to do everything we can to ensure that the word 'beleaguered' is finally decoupled from 'independent bookstore.' "
He praised the ABA staff for its hard work and dedication and ABA members for "your commitment to constantly reinvent your businesses, to ongoing professional development, to the leadership you're providing in your local communities, and, most importantly, to always finding new ways to connect customers to new writers."
In other news, the ABA has signed on to be a co-sponsor of BookExpo America for another seven years, which "ensures an active indie presence at BEA," Teicher said. --John Mutter