This past weekend, the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance gathered for its annual Discovery Show in historic Savannah, Ga.
The festivities kicked off Thursday night with a party at the Tybee Island beach home of author Mary Kay Andrews (The Weekenders, St. Martin's); even the rainy weather did not dampen the SIBA spirit.
The business portion of the conference began with SIBA's annual meeting on Friday morning. Board president Jill Hendrix (Fiction Addiction, Greenville, S.C.) welcomed attendees and recapped the state of SIBA: the organization has a solid reserve fund of $112,000, and core membership is up to 147 from 128 last year. Trade show attendance is up as well, to 71 stores from 65 last year. Hendrix said that a SIBA survey of owner/managers had indicated that one of the major concerns is profit margin, which led into a conversation about the recently announced plans to move the SIBA show to Atlanta in the spring in 2018, to tie in with the Great American Bargain Book Show (GABBS) and the Spring Gift, Home Furnishings & Holiday Market. The board believes that the larger profit margins on remainders and gifts will help its member stores.
Several booksellers spoke against the move, citing concerns about the timing of an event so soon after Winter Institute and before BookExpo America, as well as its effect on publishers, many of whom hold sales conferences at that time. Some booksellers complained that they had not been consulted about the change. Hendrix responded that the spring show is not set in stone and can be changed "if we don't have publisher support." Kelly Justice of Fountain Bookstore in Richmond, Va., said, "There was not enough information gathering, this was just dropped on us. It's too much time away from the store in a five-month period, and the first quarter is slow financially." Board member Doug Robinson noted that there will be increased financial help to get booksellers to SIBA.
|SIBA board members: Jill Hendrix, Fiction Addiction; Erica Merrell, Wild Iris Books; Linda-Marie Barrett, Malaprop's; Stephanie Crowe, Page & Palette; Doug Robinson, Eagle Eye Book Shop
Tom Lowenburg of Octavia Books in New Orleans (the site of next year's SIBA) commented, "GABBS can be useful, but my concern is the flavor of the show. It should be about our core business--we're sellers of new books."
SIBA executive director Wanda Jewell explained the decision process: "At first I thought no one would want this; it was on the back burner for four years. But the large majority of booksellers and publishers I spoke to wanted this. The board was unanimously in favor." Hendrix added, "Everyone has to do what's best [for their store]. Maybe some stores that don't come to the fall show will come in the spring." Jewell concluded, "I want to build a new show for you, and want your input."
The topic also came up at a meeting of the SIBA advisory board on Saturday morning. The board again addressed concerns about the cost and inconvenience of an Atlanta show for some members by promising additional scholarships and subsidies, and considering the idea of retaining some sort of additional educational component during the fall season, perhaps one that travels. Several booksellers pointed out that they already spend two full days shopping at GABBS and would not want the SIBA sessions to run concurrently.
Ruth Liebmann, v-p, director of account marketing for Random House, said, "We are always interested in new initiatives that have the potential to increase participation. SIBA has a special magic, and we look forward to working with them to make 2018 even more productive for our publishers and authors." And Gary Brooks of Baker & Taylor said, "We'll be there no matter what. We support the booksellers' decision."
The board members reiterated their support for Jewell, and Hendrix again emphasized, "We want to do what's appropriate for our members. Consider this a blank slate: What would you like to see in a SIBA show? We want to hear from booksellers."
On the show floor, Larry May of GABBS said that his show already sees some 70 attendees from 40 SIBA stores. He said, "More stores can benefit from selling remaindered titles, and GABBS offers the opportunity to meet with about 40 vendors."
Chip Mercer of Southeastern Book Travelers said, "Why not? Bigger is better, and this is all about relationships, no matter where. My only reservation would be the timing in March around [publishers'] sales conferences."
Many booksellers Shelf Awareness spoke with expressed mixed feelings about the move, but supported the organization's desire to try something new. As one said: "Let's give it a whirl. If it's not working out, we can change it back."
Jewell agreed with that, and is confident that the move will be a success: "I believe we are creating the opportunity to change the way stores and publishers do business in the South."
Around the Show
|The always-busy exhibit hall at SIBA
A full day of educational programming kept booksellers busy on Friday. Highlights among the many sessions:
- A group of booksellers from central North Carolina recounted how they created an alliance of local stores to share ideas and promotions.
- Jamie Fiocco (Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, N.C.), Janet Geddis (Avid Bookshop, Athens, Ga.) and Annie Jones (The Bookshelf, Thomasville, Ga.), with moderator Grace Bonney, author of In the Company of Women (Artisan), discussed their careers and offered advice and insights.
- The ABA presented an update on the "Amazon and Local Storefronts" study, and demonstrated hands-on tools (available at bookweb.org) to help booksellers reach out to their government representatives.
Rep Picks and a meet-and-greet with authors closed out the day's programming, followed by dinner at the nearby Knights of Columbus Hall with authors Jennifer Ryan, Aaron Becker, Ridley Pearson and Elizabeth Kostova.
On Saturday, the trade exhibits were open all day, with a break for luncheon with Flatiron authors Steve Cavanagh, Sarah Domet, Laurie Frankel and Sarah Pinborough. The show floor was busy again in the afternoon, and then the always entertaining Parapalooza (a dozen authors performing a paragraph from their books, enhanced by margaritas) served as lead-in to dinner featuring Beth Macy, David Arnold, Robert Hicks and Jodi Picoult.
Sunday gave booksellers a final chance to peruse the trade show floor, before the Moveable Feast closed out SIBA 2016.
The vibrant SIBA spirit was in evidence throughout, and booksellers took minor inconveniences with good humor: lines for overcrowded hotel elevators provided more opportunities for bonding, and those who were willing to climb the stairs suggested it would help burn off some of the great meals they'd enjoyed. --Robin Lenz