ABA Shares Its Reply to Letters From NAIBA and NEIBA Regarding IndieCommerce

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Correspondence regarding IndieCommerce from the boards of both the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association and the New England Independent Booksellers Association to the Board of the American Booksellers Association has received recent coverage in the media, and ABA wanted to make the full text of its reply available to all association members.

The letter below from ABA President Betsy Burton was sent to both the NAIBA and NEIBA boards in response to their letters.

In the coming weeks, both Bookselling This Week and direct communications with stores will have additional, detailed information about enhanced and improved features and tools being added to IndieCommerce now that the migration to Drupal 7 has been completed. In the meantime, stores should address any questions about their IndieCommerce websites to staff@bookweb.org.

August 10, 2015

Dear NAIBA Board:

Thank you all so much for sending your letter of July 29th. It was thoughtful, informative, and the fact that it brought up issues that the ABA Board has been grappling with at just about every meeting only serves to underline the importance of these issues to all of us. Although I am replying on behalf of the full Board, they’ve all weighed in so this is a letter in multiple voices. I’m also very much looking forward to having the opportunity to discuss this further with you all in person, when I am at your meeting in October.

The ABA Board shares many of the concerns you’ve raised. We absolutely agree that having an effective and affordable e-commerce solution available to our members is essential, and, while the day-to-day operations of IndieCommerce are handled by the ABA staff, we closely monitor its operation and are in frequent and detailed discussions about everything from metadata concerns, to functionality problems, to templates we’d like to see (for pre-orders, for instance), to creative ways to make IndieCommerce available to the broadest spectrum of ABA member stores. In addition to our staff, the ABA Board has consulted extensively with outside experts — including the Portland, Oregon-based company Lullabot — and we are always continuing to seek maximum input to ensure we are doing whatever we can to improve our e-commerce program.

Like you, the Board believes that this is a very important program. Over the past several years, ABA has not only invested millions of dollars in creating, first, BookSense.com and, later, IndieCommerce.com, but at important junctures of IndieCommerce’s operation the ABA Board has also voted to invest what amounts to hundreds of thousands of dollars over and above what is realized in IndieCommerce subscription fees to support that program. The recent upgrade to the new Drupal 7 platform is one recent example of where we’ve used general ABA funds for IndieCommerce — an upgrade that was absolutely necessary to keep up with technological change. Without the upgrade, we’d be unable to do many of the things we all want to see implemented.

Although the new platform is now up and running, we understand that there are still kinks to be worked out. We have high hopes that we can not only accomplish this pretty quickly but also begin to make greater headway in other areas — and we completely agree that issues surrounding the search function are of the highest priority. Importantly, indie booksellers have significant input in the development of the program. ABA convenes an annual task force meeting of IndieCommerce users, where priorities are discussed and established. The task force includes stores of various sizes and locations; several NAIBA members were at the most recent meeting, which was held this past spring. It is our hope that the combination of informed bookseller input coupled with expertise from outside consultants will help us to continue to grow and improve.

All of which in no way negates the need for more work on the part of ABA to ensure we can continue to provide the best possible online presence for bricks-and-mortar indie bookstores. ABA has repeatedly instituted trial, low-cost introductory plans to encourage new stores to sign up, and we are committed to continuing to do so since without IndieCommerce many stores (including several of our own) would not be able to be online in the first place.

Although we all recognize that it’s difficult to compete with publicly traded entities that outspend us by millions of dollars, ABA is unique — as far as not-for-profit trade associations are concerned — in providing a service like IndieCommerce, and we remain fully committed to the continued improvement of the IndieCommerce program. We understand that stores rely on it, and we agree that — given the perpetual changes in technology — standing still is not an option. We will do everything in our power to address your concerns and to make IndieCommerce as robust and effective as possible.

Thanks again for your letter — the ABA Board is grateful to have heard from you. I look forward to our meeting in October, where we’ll have the opportunity to further discuss this issue, as well as any matter concerning the ABA endowment. Of course, we can also discuss whatever other things concerning our industry you’d like.

See you then.


Betsy Burton
President, American Booksellers Association
The King’s English Bookshop
Salt Lake City, UT