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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Interview With American Booksellers Association CEO Oren Teicher



1.      What is your vision as the chief executive officer of the American Booksellers Association?
ABA is the national trade association of independent booksellers. I have been ABA’s CEO for more than six years, and I have been privileged to have been able to have worked on behalf of booksellers for more than 20 years, beginning in 1990 as ABA’s Associate Executive Director, then working as the association’s Director of Governmental Affairs, as the founding President of the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, and then as ABA’s Chief Operating Officer.

Over the last few years, we in the U.S. have seen unprecedented change in our industry -- in the way books are written, edited, and published; how these books are sold; and, with the growth of e-books, even how they are read. Amidst all these changes, ABA, too, has adapted and changed. Founded in 1900, ABA is a not-for-profit trade association whose mission is to help our members -- independent bookstores -- operate successful bookstores. We do this by providing them education, important business information, business products and services, marketing support, and, also, by advocating on their behalf within the industry and our state and national government.

For independent booksellers, the past few decades have been a time of almost constant innovation and re-imagining of their business models, as they worked hard to stay relevant to consumers and respected in the industry. Our goal at ABA has been to give them the education, professional development, and the business tools they need to fulfill their business goals.

2.      Are you happy with the recent progress made in growing the ABA and seeing more indie bookstores open? 
Very much so....after many years of decline, the resurgence in indie bookselling in the US is an unmistakable trend; and, I am confident it will continue.  How is ABA helping this to happen?
 
One of the most important ways that ABA helps this to happen is by offering year-round education to members. Our biggest initiative in this is our annual educational summit, the Winter Institute. This year, ABA’s 10th Annual Winter Institute was held in Asheville, North Carolina, in February. The event 10 featured four plenary talks (including author Steven Johnson) and 31 sessions and workshops (including one led by Ryan Raffaelli, of the Harvard Business School), as well as an Introduction to Bookselling Workshop. ABA also conducts a shorter institute that focuses on children’s bookselling, held in April in Pasadena, California, which featured 10 education sessions, and three keynote presentations. And, throughout the year, ABA offers educational sessions to members in a number of different locations nationwide.

ABA also is helping members leverage technology. We have made a substantial investment IndieCommerce.com -- an e-commerce tool developed especially for independent bookstores. In addition, through a partnership with the Canadian eBook and eReader company Kobo, ABA members can sell digital content to their customers in a wide array of devices and platforms.

Another critically important factor in the resurgence of indie stores has been the localism movement, the rapidly growing awareness among shoppers of the important role locally owned, independent businesses play in their communities. Now, more than ever, American shoppers value authenticity, they want to connect with and to strengthen their communities, and they recognize that bigger is not always better. As more and more Main Streets lose the unique institutions and retailers that made them special, people are deciding that this loss of character and sense of place is not what they want for their cities and towns.

ABA has been fortunate to help lead the way in the shop local movement. In 2008, we launched our IndieBound program, which combines a clearly articulated series of messages about the key role all indie businesses play in their communities with cooperative marketing programs that booksellers can employ in conjunction with their neighboring businesses. And a key element of that message is that independent businesses circulate far more of the dollars spent back into their communities, and that they play an essential role in building and sustaining healthy local communities.

3.      How can ABA help stores battle Amazon and deal with Barnes and Noble?
The most important things that stores can do to insure their continued success is to focus on what distinguishes us from the competition; and, remain a physical place that is fun to shop in; and; is full of limitless opportunities to discover books.
 
4.      What advice would you give to someone opening up a new bookstore?
Get connected with your community; work with other locally owned businesses; do events; take advantage of all the new technologies that help you communicate with your customers; plug-in to the network of other indie bookstores; and, keep reading!

5.      What do you love most about working with books?
 Indie booksellers are the smartest and most entrepreneurial group of businesspeople you'll find anywhere. Their passion is contagious!  Add more to talk about why communities need their indies

Indie booksellers are the smartest and most entrepreneurial group of businesspeople you'll find anywhere. Their passion is contagious! In indie bookstores, customers can experience first-hand a deeper connection with authors, great writing, and their own community, and that experience of discovery ripples out into the entire community of the book -- whether it’s website updates about staff picks and author events; pithy and engaging tweets; regular Facebook updates; informative e-mails; or the many ways indie booksellers reach out and connect directly with readers in visits to schools, libraries, and reading groups -- and those are just a few of the ways indies communicate with readers every day.

6.      Where do you see the book industry heading?
I said at a meeting - just this week - that I am unalterably convinced that despite the multiple challenges we face - the best days for indie bookstores lie ahead! 

For the sixth year in a row ABA bookstore membership has grown, with stores operating in more than 2,200 locations. Also, as a channel, independent bookstore sales are up. While not every bookstore or community has not seen this growth, the national trends are clear. In addition, nationally in the U.S., new stores are opening, established stores are finding new owners, and a new generation is coming into the business as both owner/managers and frontline booksellers. All of this is a result of the fact that indie booksellers remain a resilient and entrepreneurial group.

I think the secret to this success -- perhaps the most important factor fueling the renaissance in indie bookselling -- is that independent booksellers recognize that they have an obligation to adapt. Indie bookstores are a permanent work in progress. They are changing every day.

In a world of such vast and accelerating change, we are discovering that small is better, and that the nimble can adapt more quickly, can turn on a dime, can experiment, and -- not burdened with layers of management and infrastructure -- can profitably implement necessary change.

7.      The ABA us also involved in freedom of speech issues. What can consumers, bookstores, libraries, publishers and authors do to ensure books are never banned, censored or compromised? By constantly remaining vigilant; and, always reminding those who want to suppress content - that, as a society, we are far better off with widest array of material always being available.
In 2014-2015, the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression merged with ABA, becoming a new division, the American Booksellers for Free Expression (ABFE). ABFE is the bookseller's voice in the fight for free speech. Its mission is to promote and protect the free exchange of ideas, particularly those contained in books, by opposing restrictions on the freedom of speech; issuing statements on significant free expression controversies; participating in legal cases involving First Amendment rights; collaborating with other groups with an interest in free speech; and providing education about the importance of free expression to booksellers, other members of the book industry, politicians, the press and the public. You can find more information about ABFE here: http://www.bookweb.org/abfe

8.      Why is owning a book store different than any other kind of retail venture?
While we do have much in common with other indie retailers, books are different from other products; and, as booksellers we play a special role in the cultural lives of our communities.
 
9.      How can we encourage bookstores to hold more events – and to be creative in what is held at their stores?
While the events calendar in many stores is very robust; it can always get better. In a world in which so many of us spend so much time in front of a computer screen; it is clear that people want to engage - in person - with other people - and, bookstore events are the perfect place for that to happen. 
 
10.  Read any good books of late?
Just finishing David McCullough's new book about the Wright brothers.....it's great!


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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2015

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