SCIBA Spring Forum: ABA's New 'Year in Bookstore Profitability'

"I lied when I said that everything in here was optional about when you do it in the course of the year," said American Booksellers Association CEO Oren Teicher during the new "A Year in Bookstore Profitability" education session, delivered at the Southern California Independent Booksellers Association Spring Forum in Los Angeles, Calif., last Friday.

"The first thing is not optional," continued Teicher. "If you are not doing your physical, in-store inventory in the first quarter of the year, you're failing to operate your business properly."

Teicher and ABA senior program officer Joy Dallanegra-Sanger took turns giving the presentation, which showcased numerous bookstore best practices in a season-by-season breakdown of the year. The talk covered everything from holidays and literary prizes to the best time to start thinking about employee evaluations and budgeting for the holidays.

Also on the subject of taking inventory, Teicher noted that it can be done in-house or by third-party agencies, and acknowledged that some stores in resort locations prefer to do their inventories in September, after the summer rush ended. He added that the important point was doing inventory at a consistent time each year, preferably after the store has seen the greatest amount of turnover.

Below are a few more takeaways from the presentation, which will be featured at each of the regional spring forums in the upcoming weeks:

  • Teicher reported that from now on, Winter Institute scholarships will open much earlier, so that booksellers will know whether they've received one before general registration opens.

  • Commenting on the closure of many Toys R Us stores around the country, Teicher advised that while the company was not profitable, they were doing a high volume of sales, and booksellers in an area now vacated by Toys R Us may want to look into stocking some toys.

  • Dallanegra-Sanger reported that beginning in May, PBS will launch The Great American Read, a TV series and online voting campaign aimed at finding the country's favorite novel. The campaign will run until October, and Dallanegra-Sanger suggested booksellers keep an eye on it.

  • Dallanegra-Sanger also stressed the importance of annually re-evaluating credit card processing services and insurance providers. Teicher noted that it costs nothing to have a new provider bid on your business, and said: "Don't stay with the same processor just because it was the same processor you've had for the last five years."

  • The ABA suggests the summer as a good time to consider doing annual employee evaluations, and to set aside time to review the store's hiring practices, staff manual, and other staff-related things that are easy to let slip.

  • On the subject of fall literary awards, Dallanegra-Sanger noted that this year, there are four booksellers serving as judges for the National Book Award, and a new category for works in translation will make its debut.


During the open forum portion of the day, booksellers asked about the feasibility of the ABA providing health insurance for booksellers. Teicher replied that the ABA continues to pay attention to it, but as health-care laws currently stand, the ABA does not have a high enough concentration in any single state to provide health care. He added that though the ABA has explored partnering with other independent business associations to provide healthcare, nothing has come of it as yet.


Many booksellers at the forum expressed frustration with authors and publishers who insist on featuring Amazon links first, even when they are trying to promote events at independent bookstores. Teicher said that there is no single solution, but if publishers and authors continue to hear about it from indie booksellers again and again, the message will begin to get through.


Brien McDonald, event director at ReedPOP, talked about a new BookExpo scholarship program conducted in partnership with the regionals called Introduce an Indie. The scholarship is open to any bookseller new to BookExpo and will provide $400 plus hotel stay. Any bookstore employee who has not been to BookExpo before can apply through an online form, and ReedPOP will work with the regionals to select two winners from each region.

McDonald also noted that this year "the show is all about the business of bookselling," and discussed some new initiatives, including a "Booksellers Bookstore" on the show floor featuring cool things from bookstores around the country and new, informal sessions for booksellers to chat with editors.

When asked if BookExpo might ever return to the West Coast or other parts of the country, McDonald said that he didn't think so. But he did say he thought "we can give you more in New York," with better access to publishers and authors. --Alex Mutter

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