Rebranded, ABA's Book Sense Makes Major Acquisition
After several years of debate, the American Booksellers Association has decided to rebrand Book Sense and, in the process, refocus and greatly expand the book retailing marketing effort.
"The new Book Sense will have immediate recognition nationally--and around the world, too," ABA CEO Avin Domnitz said. "We are also taking an exceedingly proactive and hands-on approach to bookselling and competition."
Effective this month, Book Sense's new name is the Booksellers Organization for the Revival of Downtowns and the Expansion of Retail Sales. In its first act, the new organization, to be known as BORDERS, is acquiring a range of storefronts across the country that recently came onto the market. Many of the outlets, which coincidentally have the same name as the new organization, are in prime locations and have more square footage than the average ABA member store. The purchase is being funded by the ABA endowment, which because of some aggressive short selling of book retail stocks by investment managers, has ballooned in value to several hundred million dollars.
"ABA members will be offered individual BORDERS locations or will share ownership with one or two other indies," Domnitz added. "Overall we're acquiring about 600 stores to divvy up among 1,600 members." The association said that it expects some indies to close their current shops to focus on the new stores. As for independents that are not members of the association, Domnitz said, "We wish them well as we compete on a playing field that is finally level."
The acquired stores were recently put up for sale by Borders Group (Shelf Awareness, March 20, 2008), which has been squeezed by the credit crunch, a restive hedge fund investor and sluggish sales. The hedge fund (see interview below) is retaining an interest in the new operation.
"Considering the difficulties our member booksellers have had during the past 15 years, we have a generous amount of sympathy for the predicament in which Borders currently finds itself," COO Oren Teicher said. "We believe we have the know-how to turn things around, as evidenced by the stabilization, nay flowering, of independents in the past several years."
ABA president Russ Lawrence of Chapter One, Hamilton, Mont., put it more succinctly, saying, "We're going to kick some Book Sense into 'em."
In the past year, Borders Group has in fact sought to remake itself, taking back its website from Amazon, launching "new concept" stores and expanding its membership program. Domnitz noted that the new initiatives will be continued and in some cases, current ABA programs will be merged with them. For example, booksense.com will be rebranded as well, becoming BORDERS.com.
There may be more news from Tarrytown soon. Speaking off the record, several ABA insiders said that to reflect its expanded role in the bookselling world and more accurately indicate its primary function, the association may change its own name, too, perhaps by adopting the moniker of its marketing and bookselling operation and becoming either ABA-BORDERS or simply BORDERS.