Booksellers on the future of regionals

Like their publishing counterparts, most booksellers call PW We’re excited that nearly all of the fall’s regional conferences and trade fairs will be taking place in person, some for the first time since 2019. “After these past two years, what we’ve been longing for is seeing fellow booksellers and camaraderie with fellow book-obsessed,” says Matt Norcross, co-owner of McLean and Eakin Booksellers in Petoskey, Michigan. “Regionals have been essential and something we rely on, but they are even more important in creating a community of booksellers after these interrupted personal gatherings.”

However, virtual programming remains an important option for booksellers like Praveen Madan, CEO of Kepler’s Books in Menlo Park, Calif., who is personally skipping CALIBA’s inaugural and not sending staff due to the ongoing pandemic. Justin Suther, senior purchaser and manager at Malaprop bookstore/cafe in Asheville, North Carolina, cannot attend SIBA’s in-person show in New Orleans because the store will sell out at this week’s festival, which is among the reasons why it’s regional, SIBA, along with NAIBA, has chosen , held a joint virtual trade fair in the fall, New Voices New Rooms, earlier this month. Both unions have personal programming planned as well.

Even as more events move to personal settings, Allison Hill, CEO of the American Booksellers Association, notes that virtual conferences, webinars, and panels are “especially exciting because we are able to reach booksellers who cannot attend conferences in person. The new industry calendar looks different without BookExpo, but everyone — booksellers, publishers, authors, regionals, the ABA — is moving forward and improving the opportunities we have to meet. These events are meaningful and impactful, now more than ever.”

Networks without a screen

Being together in person is almost as important as the programs themselves, especially at a time when so many booksellers are experiencing Zoom stress. Susanna Hermans, co-owner of Oblong Books in Millerton and Rhinbeck, New York, says, “I have really missed making personal contacts with the NEIBA member booksellers. They are the coolest group of people. The educational sessions are always top notch, but it’s really the networks and friendships that make I am very excited about it. I plan to bring in two or three employees as well.”

Jamie Fiocco, owner and general manager of Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, is using fall offerings to fill in the gap left by ReedPop’s decision to retire from BookExpo and BookCon in 2021 after its cancellation in 2020. Without BookExpo, “I miss communication,” says Fiocco. With publishers, editors, and booksellers all over the country. However, regional books are usually much less expensive than a trip to New York, so I can bring in more staff and introduce new staff to the independent book culture.” Fouco says that networking at booksellers’ conferences is critical to the success of independent bookstores like hers, which is one reason she tries to take advantage of every opportunity available to her and her staff to participate.

Mike Wesok, director of Book Stall at Chestnut Court in Winnetka, Illinois, says he missed connecting with booksellers outside his immediate neighborhood when the Heartland show was virtual. By contrast, Cathy Burnett, founder of Brain Lair in South Bend, Indiana, looks to connect with booksellers whose stores are just a short drive away. “I love the opportunity to chat with people about the good things in their stores and the things they are happy about,” she says. “It’s the start of the holiday shopping season for me, mentally – and they face similar challenges as my store in terms of weather and shopper mentality.”

Connection and serendipity are the reason why Sarah Hines, co-owner and buyer at Eight Cousins ​​Books in Falmouth, Massachusetts, is planning to attend this year’s in-person NEIBA conference. “I look forward to people, unexpected conversations,” she says.

Author events and the opportunity to learn about new and upcoming books through delegate picks and exhibitions continue to be a magnet. “It’s great to be back with so many ARCs to read and think about,” says Jenny Cole, owner of Page 2 Books in Burien, Washington, who has been attending the PNBA every year since 2013, when she bought the store. “It is also an opportunity to meet the representatives, because they can provide a lot of information in a short period of time. We are a very small shop, so I do not have much time when I meet them.”

Seeing live authors is a huge help when I’m making decisions about which authors to feature on stage,” says Pamela Klinger Horn, special events coordinator at Valley Bookseller in Stillwater, Minnesota. “Being great on the page is a very different skill set than being great on stage. Theatre. Human interaction cannot be replaced.” For her, she also cannot meet publishers face to face with email contacts. In order to maintain these personal connections, she and Mary O’Malley started Skylark Books in Columbia, Mo. , their personal gatherings during Covid (see ‘Booksellers find ways to connect’, p. 32).

“The Children’s Institute and Winter Institute are valuable personal experiences, but I still consider NEIBA to be the main thing,” says Willard Williams, founder and co-owner of Toadstool Bookshops in Keene, Nashua and Peterborough, New Hampshire. Like we get what we need at NEIBA: educational seminars and the chance to meet publishers and salespeople. It is more intimate. In terms of timing, like most booksellers, he already ordered fall books long before the fall show but still appreciated the exhibits. It’s good to see what we ordered, and what we missed might not look good on the page or screen,” he explains. .

Similarly, Burnett of Brain Lair says, “I mostly look for smaller presses that may not be represented in the bigger shows. If I see some gifts that catch my eye, that’s even better.” Others, like Flyleaf’s Fiocco and Oblong’s Hermans, specifically look for Gift galleries at regional fairs so they can add new sidelines.

Even as Communities are returning to in-person programming, they still need to address criticism from booksellers like One of the Eight Cousins’ Hines which at a time when children’s books were increasingly important to store profits, regionals haven’t been keeping up. “What I really want to focus on is children’s books,” says Haynes. “This is an ongoing conversation. There is a lot of recognition of the importance of the market. We need to acknowledge the importance of growing this next generation of readers.”

Charles Hanna, who along with Michelle Lewis founded Third Eye Books in Portland, Oregon, for Africa-focused books, accessories, and gifts in 2019, wants to see greater diversity. Last year, when he attended his first trade show, he was among a handful of black booksellers. “I was left out and disappointed by the lack of diversity, and I didn’t see anything about racism or about Black Lives Matter, even though we were selling a lot of books on these topics. It’s a missed opportunity for people,” Hannah says. He would also like to see more interest in locally known, nationally black authors, whose library highlights.

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A version of this article appeared in the 08/29/2022 issue of Publishers Weekly Under the title: Booksellers about the future of Regionals

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