Saturday, May 14, 2016

"The State of Independent Bookselling Remains Strong"

Publishers Lunch

Following the early release of the American Booksellers Association's annual membership numbers which showed their seventh annual increase -- along with an indication of increased print unit sales at member stores that report to Nielsen Bookscan, the organization's ceo Oren Teicher addressed the group's annual meeting.

He noted that "almost two third of the ABA members" in attendance at BEA this year are members "who have not been to this show in recent years," due to the one-year relocation to Chicago. (BEA returns to Javits Center in New York in 2017.) Teicher celebrated "independent booksellers' commitment to innovation and hard work" to "completely change [the] narrative" of dying bookstores and a dwindling of the physical book itself. Rather, as he declared, "overall, the state of independent bookselling remains strong."

Teicher suggested "there have been four key factors supporting the resurgence of indie bookselling: The Localism movement, your skillful implementation of new technology, advances in publishers' terms and business initiatives, and the unparalleled ability of independent booksellers to connect authors and readers."

Recent ABA visits with publishers have continued the dialog on "a number of ways that we might work together more effectively and sell more books," with "new initiatives" on the way around backlist, returns and more.

At the same time, Teicher acknowledged, "all of us here today know that independent bookstores face significant challenges" and "ignoring those challenges would be a terrible mistake." Those challenges center around the unstoppable rise of online bookselling, and the other two major expenses for any store, wages and rent: "Increases in minimum wage and occupancy are huge challenges to the bottom line."

Solutions there will be more elusive and harder won, given the groundswell of support for living wages in progressive communities around the country, and the regularly improving economy that is reversing some of the favorable rents and vacancies since the 2008 recession that have helped fuel the expansion of ABA members. The organization's best answer there is advocacy and grass-roots lobbying -- "We need you to get involved, now" -- though the obstacles are formidable. "I think this is our moment and we can't just let it go to waste."

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