NCIBA: Sunny Moment in the Bay Area

For those of you unfamiliar with weather in the Bay Area, the region, San Francisco especially, enjoys only two months of great weather a year. The first bit comes in March, with an amazing false spring. The second comes during September and early October. Anyone asking about summer really needs to visit here during July. Wear short pants and matching windbreakers so we know who you are.

One of those weekends happens to fall during the annual Northern California Independent Booksellers Association trade show, but in spite of that booksellers and publishers by the hundreds crowded the Oakland Convention Center and were treated to a robust program of events and workshops.

Friday was dedicated to education with a series of workshops led by a keynote address by Michael Shuman titled, "10 Arguments Against Local First (And How to Blow Them Out of the Water)."

Saturday started with an especially strong author breakfast featuring Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard CEO and author of Tough Choices: A Memoir (Portfolio); Michael Connelly, whose new book is Echo Park (Little, Brown); and Amy Goodman, author of Static: Government Liars, Media Cheerleaders, and People Who Fight Back (Hyperion).

Last year, the talk on the show floor centered on Kepler's closing; this year, it focused on Cody's and A Clean, Well Lighted Place for Books, which brought up a sore subject among members of the Bay Area book community. Concerning book industry coverage, bad news gets the headlines but good news is buried on page 9.  While the closing of the Telegraph Avenue Cody's is sad to all of us, it's also true that Cody's had opened a downtown San Francisco store less than a year before. In the case of A Clean, Well Lighted, yes, the Opera Plaza store closed, generating all kinds of headlines, but Books Inc. soon reopened in the same location and Neal Sofman and his wife, Anna Bullard, opened West Portal Books in another part of San Francisco. By my math, that's a net gain of one store.

This reflects an overall trend Hut Landon, NCIBA's executive director, said he has been noticing: smaller stores, well-connected to their neighborhoods, have been thriving.

Of course, there has to be an exception to every rule and in this case the exception was Tower Records. As was reported earlier this week in this very newsletter, Great American Group outbid Trans World Entertainment Corp. by $500,000 in a deal worth over $134 million. Great American went into the auction stating that its intention was to liquidate Tower's assets as soon as possible while Trans World would have kept elements of Tower going.

That $500,000 difference amounts to about .37% of the deal.

I don't mean to get all Lou Dobbs here, but ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

You know the value that a store like Tower brings to local communities in terms of local jobs, a healthier tax base and local access to musicians and authors and you all know that those factors are worth WAY more than a measly $500,000.

But that's the free market for you.  To paraphrase Bart Simpson, Adam Smith can eat my shorts.

But I digress . . .

Attendance held steady from last year: 600 exhibitor badges were issued for 130 booths, although many booths, especially those of commissioned rep groups, represented several publishers each. There were 600 bookseller badges with 100 associate members and other badges. Landon said he believed that fewer people are coming from each store and publisher, implying that the net number of bookstores and publishers rose compared to last year.

John Gould from Book Travelers West called it was a moderately slow show, busy at times but not steady, with orders down from last year. While Howard Karel and Lise Solomon of the Karel Dutton Group said it was surprisingly busy with a steady stream of booksellers on both days, they, too, found that orders were down overall. By contrast, Doug Mendini from Kensington Publishing said orders were up significantly from last year.

Saturday night's author dinner honored Jennifer Laughran of Books Inc. and Kate Levinson of Point Reyes Bookstore for outstanding book event, and Jeremy Lassen of San Francisco's Borderland Books for outstanding handseller. The first annual Debi Echlin Memorial Award for outstanding community service went to Kathleen Caldwell of Oakland's A Great Good Place for Books.

Judy Wheeler, owner of TownCenter Books and accomplished multitasker, placed several orders at the show, but saved her highest praise for the smoochies from Scharffen Berger, part of the Cookbook Celebration on Sunday that featured tempting treats from The Essence of Chocolate: Recipes from Scharffen Berger Chocolate Makers and Cooking With Fine Chocolate by John Scharffenberger and Robert Steinberg (Hyperion); The Bon Appetit Cookbook by Barbara Fairchild (Wiley); Into the Vietnamese Kitchen by Andrea Nguyen (Ten Speed Press); Starting With Ingredients by Aliza Green (Running Press); and West Coast Cooking by Greg Atkinson (Sasquatch). Booksellers might have praised the event more, but their mouths were full.

One vital aspect of the show that deserves to be noted is the value of community, which, unlike booth and travel costs, is hard to place on a spreadsheet. You could see it on the show floor, at the author dinners and breakfasts and in the area bars; clusters of friends and colleagues catching up, sharing stories and making new acquaintances. It's these conversations that mark the value of the show as much as the orders placed, although Redsides Publishing Services rep George Carroll (sorry, girls, he's off the market) commented on seeing several of his old friends that he really needs to get back to the gym.

Amy Thomas, owner of Pendragon and Pegasus bookstores put it best, "Even though business has never been more difficult, the books are still worth it. It was an honor to spend the weekend with people who seemed to feel that as much as I did. I love our tribe and continue to root for us."--Mark Anderson, the University of California Press

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