ABA Town Hall and Annual Meeting
The mood was so mellow at the American Booksellers Association's Town Hall and Annual Meeting that both events ended early. It made a few audience members almost wish for a return of the occasional verbal slugfests of yore.
Among the good news:
For the third year in a row, ABA membership has grown, with every category up, as v-p Steve Bercu of Bookpeople, Austin, Tex., observed. ABA now has 1,900 bookstore locations members, up 4.2%, who represent 1,567 companies, up 3.6%. Provisional membership, representing people interested in opening a store, rose 16.2%, to 194. Bercu noted that many people see bookselling as a good business to get into, which "a few years ago would have been considered insane."
ABA CEO Oren Teicher commented: "I believe that this year we can say with certainly that the trend of indie bookstore decline has been reversed." In the same vein, he happily pointed to Nielsen Bookscan figures that show a continuation of "the double-digit increases over the previous year that we saw throughout the holiday season." In the first 20 weeks of the year, unit sales at indies have risen 13.4%. Thus "the indisputable fact is that we, as a channel are selling more books today than we were a year ago." Also, gross annual sales at IndieCommerce stores are up 92% for the year to date.
"We have reason for optimism," Teicher said. "We have proven to the industry that our business model is well positioned for the future. Now more than ever, customers appreciate our curated selection; our local ownership and close ties to our towns and cities; our many in-store events; and the opportunity to connect face-to-face in our stores with other passionate readers. The experiences you create everyday in your stores simply cannot be downloaded or replicated online."
In addition, Teicher said, despite a smaller market share, indies do a better job than other book retailers "discovering, championing, and launching notable writers and showcasing outstanding fiction and nonfiction"--and fueling sales in other channels.
Teicher added, "I know there are some doom and gloom folks out there who continue to predict the demise of bookstores. But, when I look out at this room--and add up all you do every day--I believe this moment in our industry is rich with promise and opportunity. I remain confident and convinced that, despite all the challenges and difficulties, the best days of indie bookselling are yet to come."
Offering some striking perspective about "the talk about modest market share for independents," Hut Landon, executive director of the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association, happily stated at the Annual Meeting that San Francisco now has 35 independent booksellers and no chain stores. Only a year ago there were four Borders stores and a Barnes & Noble.
In other news, the ABA is talking with several companies about a replacement for Google eBooks, following Google's decision to end the program with the ABA in January. Teicher said there are many more options compared to when ABA and Google first came to an agreement several years ago. "It's our goal and our hope that the new e-book solution will be more robust and more flexible than the Google program, offering more choices to a broader spectrum of the membership," Teicher said. He predicted that the new program will be in place by the holiday season. At the Town Meeting, president Becky Anderson of Anderson's Bookshops, Naperville and Downers Grove, Ill., said that a decision may come as early as July. Echoing Teicher, she said the new program will be "better than what we had before."
Teicher called the Justice Department's suit against Apple and five publishers over the agency model for e-book pricing "baffling." The ABA supports agency pricing. "The evidence is clear," he said. "The agency model has enhanced competition--not in any way lessened it--and that it has created more options and more value for consumers." He as well as many members of the board urged booksellers and others to send comments to the Justice Department before the June 25 deadline. He pointed to the ABA's effect on sales tax collection at the state level, saying, "Many voices joined together can channel the power of important ideas." Now sales tax equity is "becoming reality in more and more states."
At last year's ABA annual meeting, Teicher challenged publishers to work with indies to develop new business models for the 21st century. Many publishers responded and are currently conducting experiments with some booksellers, but this is all being done in the strictest secrecy. "Much important work has begun, but there is much more yet to do," Teicher said. "And I urge publishers who have not yet begun to rethink their business operations regarding indie stores to join us in dialogue."
Teicher reaffirmed the association's commitment to education, which includes the wildly popular Winter Institute and today's first ABC Group Children's Institute, and said that "in the coming weeks" there will be information about "additional mini-Institutes offering focused educational programming on key bookselling topics."
BookExpo America will be in New York through 2015, but there is "a realistic possibility" that in 2016 it will move from New York, BEA show director Steve Rosato said at the Town Meeting.
This year's experiment having consumers visit the show takes place tomorrow. Although only about 500 had registered as of yesterday, Rosato said that given the nature of consumer attendance, there could be many last-minute consumer attendees, closer to the show's cap of 1,000. If consumer attendance is a success, BEA may move the show to Thursday, Friday and Saturday in 2014 to make it more appealing to consumers.
Leave your hard hat at home next year: Rosato said that "in theory," this year is "the worst" of the ongoing construction at the Javits Center. --John Mutter