ABA Forum Tour Begins at Well-Attended MBA Spring Meeting

On Saturday, March 8, the American Booksellers Association held an education program and a Booksellers Forum in conjunction with the Midwest Booksellers Association (MBA) Spring Meeting, during the weekend of the Minneapolis Spring Gift Show at the Park Plaza Hotel in Minneapolis. More than 40 booksellers attended the day's programming.

Sarah Bagby, MBA president and owner of Watermark Books and in Wichita, Kansas, described the event as upbeat and engaged. "We had booksellers from all over the region -- from Iowa, from Wisconsin, Minnesota -- it was a really healthy group. Many bookstores sent their whole staff, and we had a few prospective booksellers. The reps had lots of wonderful titles to sell, both national and regional."

ABA's educational offerings launched with "Authorless Events: Enhancing Experiential Shopping," moderated by ABA COO Oren Teicher and featuring ABA Board member Collette Morgan of Wild Rumpus, in Minneapolis, who shared details of some of her most innovative authorless events.

Keri Holmes from Kaleidoscope in Hampton, Iowa, which has its own busy and successful events calendar, said of the session, "We're crazy about events here, but it's always good to hear even more ideas." One suggestion she's considering is holding a regular Saturday event. "Collette told us that her customers always know there's an event happening at one o'clock at Wild Rumpus every Saturday. It would be challenging for us, but it's a brilliant idea."

Anita Zager of Northern Lights Books & Gifts in Duluth, Minnesota, said the authorless events session got her thinking of unusual events, as well as having fun hosting them. "You have to be excited about what you're doing," she said. "And you have to be willing to do more of it."

The second ABA session, "Booksellers at the Tipping Point: Leveraging Localism and Independence to Promote Your Store," offered booksellers useful information on Shop Local efforts, a topic that is catching fire this year. Led by ABA CEO Avin Mark Domnitz and Chief Program Officer Len Vlahos, this session covered concepts of localism, independence, and sustainability.

"Both Len and Avin said that there's a wave of interest in localism and that we should position ourselves at the crest of this wave," said Zager. "I feel it's happening in Duluth. It's hard sometimes for independent booksellers to promote our selves to the wider community.... We have to get over that."

One way Zager plans to promote the store is by updating the informational card she leaves at conferences for which Northern Lights supplies the books. Instead of listing the store and contact information, she's creating a 14" x 20" poster that notes how Northern Lights benefits the community. "It says what we do to reinvest in the community, and it's very specific about the different organizations we contribute to."

Kaleidoscope's Holmes said the localism session gave booksellers a "sense of urgency" to promote their stores as locally owned independent businesses, as well as ideas about organizing a press kit and tapping into alternative media outlets.

Janet Hart of Book People Sioux City, Iowa, simply referred to the session as "Avin's get-you-going talk." Going forward, she plans to stress that Book People has been serving Sioux City for 30 years as a locally owned and operated business.

MBA educational programming included "Midwest Connections: Making the Most of MBA's Regional Marketing Program in Your Store," which gave booksellers an update on MBA's year-round regional marketing program; and two "Picks of the Lists" sessions.

Holmes said that the program was a boon to booksellers and a "wonderful" way for them to get more timely information about regional title promotions. "The idea of highlighting books that Midwestern readers can identify with, doing focused marketing, and then consequently author tours, all that stuff is good news."

She also appreciated the Picks List session to "see what the sales people are excited about." She noted that in her small store, the fact that a particular book is on her shelves is tantamount to a personal endorsement. So anytime she can see an ARC or talk to a rep is beneficial, she said.

Following the education sessions, Domnitz, Teicher, Vlahos, and ABA Chief Marketing Officer Meg Smith facilitated the "Booksellers Forum," where they provided updates on the association's programs and initiatives and booksellers had the opportunity to discuss issues of concern to them.

Zager reported that one topic that came up concerned audiobooks sales. "We're trying to figure out where the audio business has gone," she said. "We know the industry-wide sales are up, but we're not seeing it. We'd like BookSense.com to be able to enable audio downloads quickly."

Holmes added that Domnitz told forum participants ABA will be unveiling a new national program for all of its bookstore members at BookExpo America in Los Angeles this spring. "I'm excited to hear all about the new program at BEA," she said. "I'm absolutely confident that it will be wonderful. That's what I've come to expect from ABA."

MBA's author talks and closing reception were a highlight for attendees. Hart said she had the opportunity to have a "good long conversation" with several authors. "It's a chance to find out about titles that I might not have seen, as well as a chance to talk and visit with authors and hear their story."

Bagby summed up the day's events and reported that booksellers were energized by the concept of localism, as well as the "muscle ABA is putting behind creating local initiatives." She added, "It's wonderful how booksellers are going forward with the localism movement and revolution. It's an exciting time in the book business." --Karen Schechner