Introducing ABA’s New IndieCommerce Specialists

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In May, Finnigan Butterfield of Towne Center Books in Pleasanton, California, and Murray Sampson, formerly of Secret Garden Books in Seattle, Washington, joined the staff of the American Booksellers Association as the newest IndieCommerce Customer Support Specialists.

As IndieCommerce Customer Support Specialists, Butterfield and Sampson’s responsibilities include: primary support for user inquiries of all types; helping develop and maintain content for user education; supporting communication to users through individual emails, telephone calls, email blasts, and e-newsletters; keeping current on new e-commerce trends and sharing knowledge with users; and quality assurance (QA) testing of new features and services. Both Butterfield and Sampson report to ABA IndieCommerce Director Phil Davies and Senior Manager Geetha Nathan.

Butterfield worked at Towne Center Books in Pleasanton for about three years before joining ABA. They hold a bachelor’s degree in English literature with a concentration in queer and diverse literature with a minor in language arts.Finnigan Butterfield

During their time at Towne Center Books, Butterfield worked as a bookseller in addition to managing the store’s website and handling marketing for said website.

“Although I kind of kept to myself in college, I did take a technical writing course that helped me build my portfolio and led me to take on independent tech writing positions to help make some extra money while I was still in school,” said Butterfield. “I also like to write creatively, but that’s more just for fun!”

Butterfield told BTW they wanted to work for ABA because they’d already attended trade shows in the past as a bookseller. Said Butterfield, “ABA’s resources helped expand my knowledge as a bookseller and also helped me come out of my social shell since every workshop encouraged conversation and discussion. IndieCommerce was such a valuable tool when I was working on the store side of business that when I was given the chance to give bookstores the same help that I received, I leapt at the chance.”

On top of that, Butterfield added, “I want to see independent bookstores succeed. I really wanted to work for a company that both supported and gave the necessary tools to help bookstores flourish.”

Indie bookstores have played an important role in Butterfield’s life. “Bookstores have always been a safe haven for me since I was the young, weird kid who didn’t really fit in at school. Indie bookstores were always the ones who not only let me hide out on their couch reading for hours at a time, but also gave me a home away from home because of how personable, welcoming, and community-focused they were,” they said. “Every time I spoke to someone who worked at an indie bookstore, I was always given the best book recommendations (some of which have wound up on my all-time favorite list). Now, I refuse to buy books unless it’s through an indie store because I feel they are such a crucial part of any community.”

“They are not only a place of information and stories, but a gateway to a deeper understanding of one’s own humanity and self, be it through books, the community connection, or the very people who work in the store,” Butterfield added. “I truly believe indie bookstores are an invaluable part of any community regardless of location or size and try to visit one every time I go to a new place.”

Butterfield primarily reads young adult literature, queer literature, horror, and graphic novels. Their favorite books include Leave Myself Behind by Bart Yates, Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin, It by Stephen King, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, and The Monster of Elendhaven by Jennifer Giesbrecht.

Sampson holds a bachelor of fine arts degree in multimedia design from the University of Oregon and a master of library and information science degree from the University of Washington. He has held bookselling positions at the University of Oregon Bookstore, Powell’s Books, and Secret Garden Books, where he also worked as the store’s webmaster.

In addition to his experience in the book industry, Sampson worked at a bronze foundry that produced sculptures for artists such as Maya Lin and Jim Dine, among many others; owned and operated a custom letterpress print shop; and worked in his family’s winery, Yellow Hawk Cellar.Murray Sampson

Sampson told BTW that when he was a child, his aunt worked at Powell’s; visiting the city from his small town in Oregon was always a highlight. “But, as exciting as a full city block of books is, my heart has always been with my childhood shop, Sunflower Books, housed in a tiny yellow Victorian and run by one of the town’s fourth-grade teachers,” he noted. “Even as a small child I was treated with such respect and met with such a welcoming environment, and even if it hadn’t had a super cool playhouse that doubled as a book display, I would have loved going there.”

This sparked a lifelong love of indie bookstores, he said, noting, “Over my time working in the industry I have seen that same welcoming attitude and respect towards customers in stores across the industry, and it is special among small retail.”

Sampson was drawn to the position at ABA because he’d seen many of the ways the association has stepped up to support indies over the course of his career. “A couple years ago I had the opportunity to help a few stores improve their in-store and online operations, later with a greater focus on online sales when the pandemic hit,” he said. “The opportunity to step into a role at ABA that let me help a few hundred stores instead of just a handful seemed like the perfect fit.”

So far, Sampson’s experience working on the IndieCommerce team has been positive. “My colleagues here are wonderful, and I have many positive interactions with the stores we assist with IndieCommerce. Like with bookselling, the personal interaction and relationships are what give me the most satisfaction and joy,” he said. “I’m looking forward to getting to know more of the staff from our many member stores, whether purely online via our help system or in person once we can start attending industry events again.”

As far as reading is concerned, Sampson gravitates toward sci-fi and fantasy, magical realism, and graphic novels, which is a passion he shares with one of his children.