Alabama Program Focuses on the Digital Revolution and More

On Thursday, February 22, about a dozen booksellers attended an American Booksellers Association Booksellers Forum and Education Program at Alabama Booksmith in Birmingham, Alabama. The event was held in conjunction with the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance (SIBA). Featured events were a "Bookseller Forum & Strategic Planning Session," led by ABA COO Oren Teicher, and "Participating in the Digital Revolution," presented by Len Vlahos, ABA's director of education and of

Jake Reiss, the owner of 17-year-old Alabama Booksmith, told BTW, "It was wonderful having everyone here. I hate to use the word 'inspiring,' but I believe it was." In addition, he said, "It was cool for all of the booksellers to put a face on those folks [at ABA], they've been dealing with for the past 10 or 15 years."

The program began with "Participating in the Digital Revolution," which examined the effects of digitization of content, social networking, open source and distributed computing, and more on independent booksellers today, as well as their ramifications for the future.

Reiss noted that one of the session's topics was eBooks and the agreement between and Ingram Digital Ventures that will enable sites to sell digital content. Reiss said he planned to the sell eBooks on his store's site and was "excited about being able to offer it to those that want to buy it."

Tammy Lynn, owner of The Book Basket, in Wetumka, Alabama, said that "Participating in the Digital Revolution" offered a "good overview of various avenues on the web," including MySpace, YouTube, and more. "Len reminded us to read outside the bookselling world, to look at Wired and He reminded me that in the same way we need to prepare for retirement, we also need to prepare for changes in the bookselling world."

Elisabeth Grant-Gibson, co-owner of Windows a bookshop in Monroe, Lousiana, told BTW that she spent the past weekend implementing ideas she picked up at "Participating in the Digital Revolution."

"When we got back, I immediately ordered two of the books we discussed -- The Long Tail [by Chris Anderson, Hyperion] and The Wisdom of Crowds [by James Surowiecki, Anchor]. I got myself back to blogging on our site for the Book Report, and got back to working on a nice MySpace page. We have lots of author friends out there who are ready to link to us.... I realized that this is as important as creating our initial website."

Following the education session was the "Bookseller Forum & Strategic Planning Session," where ABA staff provided an update on the association's program and initiatives and where booksellers were asked to provide input that will be used to help formulate ABA's strategic plan for the next five years.

Lynn considered the discussion period "every bit as valuable" as the education session, and especially appreciated the brainstorming session about ways to make the most of the release of the last volume in the Harry Potter series this summer. "Someone mentioned a pajama party, and that's what we're going to do," she said. "It sounds like a lot of fun."

Lynn told BTW that she never misses a chance to attend regional or ABA-sponsored educational programs, and she always encourages fellow booksellers to go too. "Especially when all you have to pay for is just getting your bones there," she added.

Noting the importance of creating opportunities for booksellers to network and share ideas, Grant-Gibson said she agreed with comments made by Teicher at the Booksellers Forum that BookWeb's "Idea Exchange" was underutilized. In the future, she added, she would like to see more time dedicated to bookseller interaction at regional shows and forums.

"It was a great meeting," said Grant-Gibson. "We had a brand new bookseller, Christine Curry [of A Novel Experience, Zebulon, Georgia], the food was great, and I learned a lot, as always. We drove five hours to get there, and we're exhausted, but we felt we had so many things to take away, so many good notes -- things we could immediately start acting on." --Karen Schechner