The First 2002 ABA Booksellers Forum

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The first ABA Booksellers Forum of 2002 took place at the DoubleTree Hotel in Atlanta on January 16, from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. The forum was held after a busy day of ABA activities in Atlanta, which included meetings of the Strategic Planning Committee and the Governance Review Committee.

The forum was attended by local booksellers; Avin Mark Domnitz, chief executive officer of ABA; Oren Teicher, chief operating officer of ABA; Chris Finan, president of the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE); and ABA Board members and Southeast Booksellers Association (SEBA) Board members. The majority of the meeting focused on Book Sense, BookExpo America, and ABA's strategic planning process, according to participants.

Forum attendee Mark Luther, owner of Haversack Books & Gifts in Marietta, Georgia, told BTW how heartening it is to have the opportunity to get together with other booksellers. Dennis Bowers, inventory control manager of Outwrite Bookstore and Coffehouse in Atlanta, agreed. "Definitely the most useful thing about the forum came from the validation we got from hearing other booksellers who are facing the same struggles and challenges we face in the marketplace. Not to mention hearing about some of the creative ways those other booksellers are answering these challenges," he said.

Virginia Hicks, co-owner with her husband, Harold, of Books on the Bluff in Townsend, Georgia, said, "Everybody talked. There were no timid souls there…. I learned a lot. I always do." The Hickses traveled five hours to come to the forum because, as Virginia Hicks said, "It means that much to us…. It's always good to have ABA there…. We're so far away we feel like we get lost down here sometimes."

She noted to BTW that there has been a problem in her community with the local Board of Education banning books, and that "the first thing Harold brought up was keeping books on reading lists for schools ... poor little Holden Caufield ... We talked about that, and Chris [Finan] was just delighted that we played right into his hands." Finan spoke about banned books, Banned Books week, and the ongoing Tattered Cover case.

Mark Luther told BTW that, for him, the issue of publisher co-op was "the most important thing that was raised [at the forum]." He observed how confusing publisher co-op often was, saying that even when he worked for a 13-store chain, "we were always befuddled." Luther was enthusiastic about the idea of ABA working in some way with booksellers to help streamline the co-op procedure. A big incentive in pursuing publisher co-op is "it would make less expensive," Luther noted.

Dennis Bowers and Kevin Stevens, shift manager and assistant book buyer, respectively, for Outwrite Bookstore, were surprised at the "relatively small showing at the forum." Kevin Stevens told BTW, "I believe the best way to get booksellers involved in the ABA is to answer the one question that's unstated but lies underneath all the objections anyone might have: 'What's in this for me?' If a bookseller understands the benefits, they'll know why they should participate, and so they will."

Stevens told BTW, "I certainly felt welcome and that my input was welcome. I was impressed with the level of involvement of the ABA board members who attended, and was really excited to hear some of the ideas the forum generated for future member benefits. If any of these ideas come to fruition, it'll be really exciting for booksellers."