ABA: From Strength to Strength

The cheerful mood of ABA members at the town and annual meetings yesterday reflected the positive feeling among independent booksellers in general. The majority of them have seen business improve in the last year and a half and feel that, while the path is not easy, the days when their basic viability was questioned are over. One measure of indies' well-being: for the fourth year in a row, ABA membership has increased, with a net gain of 65 new stores, to 1,971. Incoming president Steve Bercu of BookPeople, Austin, Texas, commented: "I'm hoping next year we'll be talking about 2,000 independent bookstores across the country."

At the meetings, outgoing president Becky Anderson of Anderson's Bookshops, Naperville, Ill., was repeatedly thanked for all her work; tributes included a standing ovation. Observing that "so much has changed for all of us," she urged booksellers to "hang together" and, in a broadest sense of the word, "invest in one another."


CEO Oren Teicher gave a detailed report on the association, the state of bookselling and the many gains independent booksellers are making as well as continuing challenges and opportunities.

The association's finances are stable and have "allowed us to continue to invest appropriately in new initiatives and programming," he said. The number one priority, as expressed by members, is for educational programming, but also includes providing resources in business tools, technological support and advocacy.

Teicher noted that two years ago at BEA he had challenged publishers to work with independent booksellers to "begin to create a sustainable business environment for locally owned, independent bookstores," considering that "the handselling and browsing that happen in indie bookstores fuel the continued viability of the entire literary landscape." Yesterday he happily reported that "the majority of our publishing colleagues have recognized the unique role of indie bookstores" and some of them have tested elements of new business models with some indie stores, leading improvements that include rapid replenishment, simplified coop and improved margins. He called on publishers to "redouble" such efforts, and for those who haven't made changes to do so.

The ABA's partnership with Kobo to sell e-books and e-readers is only six months old, but "we are significantly outperforming our earlier efforts in e-books" with Google, Teicher said. The big news about Kobo: beginning in June, the company is running a campaign on NPR ("the gold standard for reaching our best customers") for the rest of the year on such shows as All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me, and the ABA is working with Kobo on the messages. It's hoped that the campaign will help alleviate the unusual problem Kobo has in the U.S.: it's "the most successful e-book company in the world that most American's haven't yet heard of," as Teicher put it.

Teicher noted that indie sales, as reported to the weekly Indie Bestseller List, up almost 8% last year, have continued to be strong in the first quarter, holding their own against a very strong first quarter in 2012.

The "Thanks for Shopping Indie" promotion last November led to higher sales of featured titles in stores showcasing them, helped demonstrate the importance of in-store browsing and discovery, and caused higher sales of the titles in other retail channels, Teicher noted. As a result, the ABA and members are working with publishers to select titles for a "Celebrate with Indies" promotion focusing on "outstanding titles for Moms, Dads, and Grads, and on the best upcoming titles from Debut Authors. And it will again include all sorts of DIY marketing materials, for both in-store and online, including exclusive authors' videos." The promotion will be, he continued, "another important opportunity to show the entire industry the unique role independent booksellers play--especially in helping readers and book buyers discover great new writers."

Teicher added that he remains "confident and convinced that despite all the challenges and difficulties, the best days of indie bookselling are yet to come." --John Mutter

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