Friday, January 24, 2014

Vibrant Book City, Dynamic Institute

(from publishersweekly.com
By Judith Rosen and Wendy Werris)


Seattle7 (L to R): Elizabeth George, Carol Cassella, Deb Coletti, Garth Stein, Jennie Shortridge, and Tara Conklin. Photo: Judith Rosen

“Seattle is the most vibrant bookselling city in the country,” said ABA v-p/secretary Betsy Burton, co-owner of the King’s English Bookshop in Salt Lake City, as she introduced six members of Seattle7. The increasingly misnamed group, which now has 62 authors, including recent member The Boys in the Boat author Daniel James Brown, is committed to working with booksellers and librarians to promote literacy. In the process they have helped to give the Emerald City a reputation as a vibrant writing community.

As cofounder Garth Stein sees it, booksellers and authors need to work together. “I’m not a bookseller other than November 30, thanks to Sherman Alexie. [Authors] are cave dwellers. But we have to realize we’re part of the ecosystem. If we lose readers, it doesn’t matter how good our bookstores are. We need to energize the reading public,” he said. The group has worked to do that through creating pocket libraries in jails and homeless shelters and writing a book together in 2011, Hotel Angeline, published by Open Road. One of the criteria for membership is to give ten signed copies of their book to Seattle7, so that they can be donated to schools, libraries, or literacy advocates to be auctioned off to help out schools and libraries.

Other educational sessions at the institute provided planning help, either with hands-on data or through sessions ranging from understanding basic bookstore accounting practices to planning for natural disasters. Bookseller Rob Dougherty at Clinton Book Shop in Clinton, N.J., found this year’s educational sessions were particularly strong. “It seems like [the ABA] really tweaked them,” he said. First timer David Sandberg, who purchased Porter Square Books in Cambridge, Mass., five months ago, said that he found the educational panels “enlightening.” So much so that he’s already planning to return next year with his wife, store co-owner Dina Mardell.

Despite the elephant in the room, or more specifically down the street—Amazon—booksellers are optimistic about the year ahead. Some, like Thomas Roberts, owner of two-year-old Ye Olde Warwick Book Shoppe in Warwick, N.Y., are coming off an up year, in his case 30% over 2012. When he returns his store’s expansion from 900 to 1,200 sq. ft. should be complete. The revamped bookstore will have three new sections—business, education, and science—and he plans to expand existing ones.

Long-time Northwest bookseller Chuck Robinson, co-owner of Village Books in Bellingham, expressed optimism about the year ahead and was buoyed by the Data Watchers session with Len Vlahos, executive director of the Book Industry Study Group; Jonathan Nowell, president of Nielsen Book; and Codex Group president Peter Hildick-Smith. “The statistics give me some hope,” said Robinson. “There’s a very small percentage of people just reading e-books. We’ve been encouraged by learning that there’s still very little penetration in children’s books.”

According to Vlahos, who was also at the conference to promote his debut YA novel, The Scar Boys, sales of children’s e-books are down 45.6%. Hildick-Smith reported that the single largest segment of readers in the U.S. now read both print and e-books. “What we primarily have today are dual-format readers, with four in ten book buyers committed to reading digital. Digital growth is done,” he said.

Children’s bookseller Tegan Tigani, buyer at Queen Anne Book Company in Seattle, appreciated the ABC programming. She said that the panel on starting tween and teen advisory boards—with Calvin Crosby of Book Passage in Corte Madera, Calif; Meghan Dietsche Goel of BookPeople in Austin, Tex.; and Francine Lucidon, of The Voracious Readers in Larchmont, N.Y.—gave her ideas for structuring both a children’s and adult book club that would require a lot less staff time. The panel focused specifically on the nuts-and-bolts of starting a successful program that draws both girls and boys, whose feedback on ARCs can be especially valuable to the store’s book buyers. BookPeople’s ten-person Teen Press Corps gets to review a YA buzz book each month to be marketed to customers and have the opportunity to interview authors and industry professionals at BookPeople events. They also serve as the official teen book press corps at the Austin Teen Book Festival.

The second day finished as it had begun, with a focus on authors. Vlahos gave a special presentation about his book before the annual author reception and book signing. This year publishers brought more than 60 adult and children’s authors, including Anthony Doerr (All the Light You Cannot See), Colson Whitehead (The Noble Hustle), Cynthia Bond (Ruby), and Brandon Mull (Five Kingdoms: Sky Raiders), to meet booksellers with the hope that one will have this year’s breakout book from the institute.