Report From the Road: An Update on the 2010 ABA Spring Forums

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By Oren Teicher, ABA CEO, and Len Vlahos, ABA COO

After two months of steady travel during ABA's latest series of Spring Forums, in the end, we discovered that you absolutely can get there from here.

Though, at times, the hotel lobbies and airport terminals began to blur together, it was a remarkable tour. Between us, we had the chance at the 12 forums we attended to talk with hundreds of booksellers and to hear firsthand their accounts of how stores are faring in what is still a challenging economic climate in many regions. 

This was the 12th year that ABA has sponsored the Spring Forums, and, happily, two things have remained constants: the wonderful reception we receive from booksellers and the feedback and new ideas with which we return to Tarrytown. Through all those conversations, we gain a far better sense of what's happening in bookstores across the country. And, even more importantly, we are able to share with our colleagues a renewed sense of admiration for the extraordinary creativity, entrepreneurship, and resilience of indie bookstores. 

So what did we hear on the road? To be sure, the most discussed subject this spring was the developing digital/e-book market -- especially how indie stores will remain viable and relevant in a world where their customers are accessing more digital book content. At every forum, there were specific questions about e-reading devices and the impact of the emerging agency model on e-book sales, as well as more general questions concerning our thoughts on the rate of growth and the potential size of the e-book market. We were happy to report at the forums that ABA will not only continue to partner with Ingram for the sale of digital content, but that we will be a full partner of Google Editions when it launches later this year.

While it's clear that many booksellers are eager for ABA to assist them in entering the e-book business right away, it's also true that others told us they believe indie stores are better off concentrating on adding value for customers in the non-digital realm. These booksellers were concerned that ABA might become preoccupied with trying to help members sell e-books and dilute our efforts in other activities. 

We also heard lots of questions and comments about ABA's IndieCommerce service. We were able to report that that the migration to the new Drupal open-source platform is completed, and we thanked booksellers for their patience. The good news is that IndieCommerce sites are a distinct upgrade from, and that some stores are beginning to see a modest uptick in online sales. Certainly, that IndieCommerce sites can sell e-books spiked interest in the service from non-users. From IndieCommerce stores, we had several requests for a number of new feature sets, as well as for more comprehensive customer service for store administrators. Based on that feedback, we have begun to expand our IndieCommerce customer service team to meet the increased demand.

At many of the forums, we had great conversations about the growing Local First/Shop Local movement, and about the many different ways stores are using the myriad IndieBound marketing materials and creatively partnering with other indie businesses in their communities. (An interesting example of that creativity is how Skylight Books in Los Angeles is working with other local businesses to create attention-grabbing window displays at their store. Here's the BTW coverage of the story.) 

We heard about numerous trade practice issues, from draconian credit practices at some publishers to examples of improved operational efficiency at others, and many other topics. And, at one forum, some booksellers said they wanted ABA to reopen discussions about net pricing for books. However, it was clear from the subsequent conversation that there remains little consensus among our members about that subject. 

Throughout the forums, booksellers provided us with lots of ideas for developing new ways to do business with publishers, and there was strong interest expressed about the experiments in consignment models being tried by a few bookstores and publishers. 

At virtually every forum, we continued to hear solid support for our efforts to achieve sales tax equity on Internet sales. And it was clear that stores are using the advocacy materials provided by ABA on We were particularly pleased to be able to personally thank the many booksellers who have been been so active in writing letters, e-mailing and calling elected officials, and even testifying in support of e-fairness legislation. We know it can feel like this fight has been going on interminably, but we are making progress in many key states, and we remain confident that we will ultimately prevail.

With the forums coinciding with the signing into law of health care reform, not surprisingly, we were also frequently asked about health insurance, and we were able to report that the new legislation would -- in theory -- make it possible for ABA to offer our members options for providing their employees with health insurance. Understanding how critically important this issue is, we are reviewing every option on this front. 

If you weren't able to attend one of the spring forums this year, we hope this gives you an update on the main issues and topics that were discussed. And if you have any questions or feedback, please, e-mail or call us. At the forums, we also introduced ABA's new member relationship managers, and if you haven't yet had the chance, we encourage you to introduce yourself directly: Kaitlin Pitcher -- who will be working with ABA member stores as well as provisional members in areas covered by in NAIBA, NCIBA, NEIBA, SCIBA -- and Elizabeth Nichols -- who will be working with ABA member stores as well as provisional members in areas covered by GLIBA, MBA, MPIBA, PNBA, SIBA.

If you were at one of the forums this year, thanks again for your hospitality and warm welcome. And if you couldn't attend this year, we hope to see you in 2011!