ABA Town Hall and Annual Membership Meetings at BEA

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On Friday, June 4, at this year's BookExpo America, ABA held its annual Town Hall Meeting, which was then followed by its Annual Membership Meeting.

The Town Hall meeting covered a number of topics during an hour of spirited give and take, and the central focus of the meeting was on the question of whether to report aggregate sales of independent bookstores to publishers. Other issues discussed included the pending sale of ABA's headquarters and booksellers' concerns regarding the rising costs associated with the receipt of damaged books.

Outgoing ABA president Ann Christophersen and incoming president Mitchell Kaplan chaired the informal Town Hall meeting.

Outgoing ABA president Ann Christophersen of Women & Children First in Chicago and incoming president Mitchell Kaplan of Books & Books in Coral Gables, Florida, chaired the informal meeting, designed to allow booksellers to ask questions and share views on any association-related topic.

Northern California Independent Booksellers Association (NCIBA) Executive Director Hut Landon brought up the subject of letting Nielsen BookScan -- which many booksellers use to report to the Book Sense Bestseller List -- send aggregate sales data to publishers. "You should support it for yourselves…. It is something we all can do," Landon said. "It helps us all, both individually and as a group."

Domnitz agreed with Landon and explained "publishers need hard data.... Independent booksellers have been getting the short end of the stick. You are very good at selling a certain type of book, but we have a problem: We don't tell anyone, and publishers base things on facts and figures. We have mountains of data, but it's your data ... so we don't give out your numbers." He added that it is his belief that booksellers should let publishers know what is selling at independent bookstores. "The time has come," he said.

Though he stressed that items discussed at the Town Hall meeting have no binding effect, Domnitz asked booksellers for a show of hands "just to get a sense" of what they thought on the matter. With few exceptions, the room overwhelmingly agreed with his assessment of the importance of reporting aggregate data and that it warranted serious consideration.

"I think Avin's totally right," said Tom Rider of Goering's Book Store in Gainesville, Florida. "I used to say, I don't want those chains to know what we're selling, but now, I realize they don't care."

Greg Topalian, vice president and show director for BEA, and Tina Jordan, the show's public relations director/special events director, opened the hour-long meeting. Topalian noted that this year's show had had a strong start. "All the ABA functions have been jam-packed," he said, noting that 1,200 people had attended the Friday Children's Book and Author Breakfast. "Everything has been very positive." He also told the audience that BEA is committed to continue moving the trade show around the country, and though it will be on the East Coast for two years (New York City in 2005 and Washington, D.C. in 2006), the show will be held in California after that.

Following Topalian's remarks, Christophersen opened the floor to the audience. Bob Sommer of Changing Hands in Tempe, Arizona, asked what the plans are for the Tarrytown property.

"ABA has made a deal to sell the property, and we're scheduled to close on June 15," Christophersen said, and she added that specific details regarding the sale cannot be disclosed until then, as ABA has signed a standard nondisclosure agreement. She did stress that, as part of the deal, "ABA offices will remain where they are now for two years, so we can be thorough and careful" in evaluating the association's needs in the future.

Nancy Olson of Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, North Carolina, reported that Quail Ridge was facing "a terrible problem with shipping damages" and a show of hands in the room made clear that she was not alone. Christophersen and Domnitz both noted that ABA maintains ongoing communications with publishers to help resolve these types of issues.

"The important thing is that people send [ABA] the specifics about the problem," said Domnitz, who explained that ABA would refer these problems to its Industry Relations consultant, David Walker. Booksellers can contact ABA by sending an e-mail to Kristen Gilligan at Kristen@bookweb.org.

Immediately following the Town Hall Meeting was ABA's Annual Membership Meeting. Booksellers heard a report from Board members and ABA CEO Domnitz on the association's implementation of the strategic plan over the last 12 months.

The first item on the agenda was a report from the Nominating Committee chair, Board member Neal Coonerty of Bookshop Santa Cruz in California, who announced the 2004 election results: Mitchell Kaplan of Books & Books in Coral Gables, Florida, was ratified as ABA president, and Suzanne Staubach of UConn Co-op in Storrs, Connecticut, was ratified as the new vice president/secretary. Carla Jimenez of Inkwood Books in Tampa, Florida; Cathy Langer of Tattered Cover Book Store in Denver; and Linda Ramsdell of The Galaxy Bookshop in Hardwick, Vermont, were elected to the Board.

In her president's report, Christophersen took the opportunity to say good-bye and to look back on her years as both an ABA Board member and as president. "I decided to give a six-year report -- my length of term on the Board," she said. "I have seen remarkable development at ABA. I take no credit for it … but I bear close witness to it. What I witnessed was the birth of Book Sense. When it was introduced as an idea out of NCIBA, it was very exciting. It sounded great! Bring a group of independent booksellers together nationally…. And now we're here to celebrate the fifth anniversary of Book Sense."

Following her report, she received a standing ovation from appreciative booksellers.

Kaplan gave the vice president's report, and thanked Christophersen for her "incredible leadership." He noted that, though there had been a drop in membership, ABA is working to increase the number of new members, including efforts with the regional associations. He also noted that this year's "bookseller school had 84 prospective booksellers [in attendance]" and that was far greater than in past years. "We are going to work hard to reverse the trend," he said.

In his CEO's report, Domnitz reviewed the Strategic Plan Implementation for 2003 - 2004, but first, on behalf of ABA staff, thanked Christophersen for her service as Board member and president.

In his report, Domnitz detailed the association's finances and announced that this year ABA will have a net surplus of close to $400,000. He also mentioned that this figure did not include the sale of the Tarrytown property. "I believe the Board made a great decision when they decided to buy the property," he said, "and I believe they made a great decision when they decided to sell the property."

To view the Annual Membership Meeting presentation, click here. (Please note that this is a PDF file and requires the free Adobe Acrobat Reader that can be downloaded from http://www.adobe.com/products/acrobat/readstep2.html.)