MPIBA Spring Show & ABA Education Earn Thumbs Up From Booksellers

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The American Booksellers Association held a Booksellers Forum and Education Program in conjunction with the Mountains and Plains Independent Booksellers Association (MPIBA) Spring Show, which ran from Thursday, March 29, through Saturday, March 31, at the Doubletree Hotel in Austin, Texas. In addition to ABA's offerings, the MPIBA Spring Meeting included a full range of programming, from sales reps' "Pick of the Lists" presentations and time set aside exclusively for rep/bookseller meetings to MPIBA educational seminars, roundtable discussions, and the Regional Book Awards Banquet.

"I thought it was a good event," said Nancy Rutland of Bookworks in Albuquerque, New Mexico. "It was nice to be in a new city that has an independent presence such as BookPeople."

Educational programming kicked off on Friday morning with "Participating in the Digital Revolution." ABA CEO Avin Mark Domnitz led booksellers through an examination of how the digitization of content, social networking, and open source and print-on-demand are affecting bookstores today, as well as their ramifications for the future. Booksellers were shown how store blogs and MySpace pages can help them reach out to younger, tech savvy customers.

"['Participating in the Digital Revolution'] was very interesting -- eye-opening for me," said Patrick Gaffey of Maria's Bookshop in Durango, Colorado. "There were some really positive ideas about how independents can address [the effects of new technology]."

"That session was very informative," said Valerie Koehler of Blue Willow Books in Houston. "I think that it's the future, and we need to be looking at it. I brought two young staff members, and we are discussing things we can work on in the store."

On Friday Domnitz also presented "Understanding Basic Financial Documents," a hands-on presentation examining the three basic financial documents -- the Balance Sheet, Operating Statement, and Cash Flow Statement.

MPIBA afternoon programming included a look at rare and collectible books; the used book market; roundtable discussions on the topic "The Best Idea I've Had This Year"; the "Pick of the Lists" presentations; and regional Advisory Council and Focus Group meetings. The MPIBA Awards Banquet capped the day.

On Saturday morning, the day started off with ABA's "Booksellers Forum and Strategic Planning Session." Booksellers, including non-ABA members, were invited to share a continental breakfast and hear about the latest developments relating to the association's programs and initiatives presented by Domnitz and ABA COO Oren Teicher. Booksellers were also asked to offer input that will be used to help craft ABA's next five-year Strategic Plan.

According to several booksellers who participated in the forum, hot topics included how to define ABA's core membership and the Winter Institute and its possible effects on attendance at the regional spring shows.

"I still feel that ABA is for storefronts first and foremost," said Bookworks' Rutland. "The core member is still the storefront.... There were varying opinions on this."

Also on Saturday, Domnitz and Blue Willow's Koehler presented "Handselling: Customer Service With Results," where participants learned how to use or improve a store's existing customer service strategy to build reputation, energize staff, and increase sales. Said Rutland: "There was a lot of discussion on the basics. It was a good refresher."

Booksellers also walked the exhibit floor on Saturday, attended a second "Pick of the Lists" session, heard four authors at MPIBA's Author Lunch, and learned how to use YouTube, MySpace, and blogs to enhance marketing efforts.

Said Blue Willow's Koehler, "I thought the Spring Show was very good." She especially loved the Austin location because "I was able to bring [staff] since it was close by. I learned a lot."

"I thought it was positive," Maria's Gaffey summed up. "I like attending all the different shows; I like the comradery of being with independents from the region." --David Grogan