Friday, July 28, 2006

Guest Blogger: Response to Dave about ABA and Book Sense

At my request, HarperCollins VP for Independent Retailing Carl Lennertz has agreed to guest blog today. The opinions expressed here are his. Register your agreement, disagreement or further thoughts on this subject in the comments. Let's continue the conversation.

Response to Dave about ABA and Book Sense

Dave makes some thoughtful, reasoned comments about his concerns about ABA and Book Sense. Full disclosure: I worked at ABA for 4 years on the Book Sense project.

I’m not going to go point for point on the ABA issues; my brief was solely Book Sense. All I want to say is that I bet the hardware, video and music stores wish they had such a strong association, especially the past 10 years, and that the ABA has been a very strong voice in Washington, DC for the independents. As for the value of education, the Thursday before BEA starts has been the single most important day of the year for booksellers to share ideas the past 25 years. Every innovation in the business has been introduced on that day, to the benefit of all booksellers. I do find that booksellers who don’t value that day are the ones that didn’t attend, to their great detriment. Ditto the ABA Winter Institute this past January: The booksellers who were there learned so much and gave each other such an energy boost. It is so important for booksellers to come together to feel a part of something bigger and not feel isolated in their towns. That notion of a collective and of a collective power is at the root of Book Sense and of the independents remaining a player in bookselling and publishing.

Which brings me to my first real beef with Dave’s perspective. Jumping ahead a bit, his comment about the part of that forces him to promote other stores is very telling. He says he doesn’t even promote the store in the next town. That’s a real shame, because together, he and his neighbor could leverage their proximity into a greater voice in the area, recommending customers to each other and bringing more authors to the area. In fact, NYC is the last remaining city in the land in which the indie booksellers don’t work or converse together. All the stores in Boston, DC, San Francisco and Seattle – to name the 4 other cities with the greatest concentration of indies – have worked together for years to make each other stronger.

And here’s the key point: They did this without any loss of individual identity. They only became stronger in concert with each other.

And that’s at the core of Book Sense. Having a voice on the national stage – with the publishers, authors, the media, and readers and book buyers – without sacrificing a shred of individual or local identity. There is power in #’s; there is a loss of power if stores stay on their islands.

The Book Sense Picks and Bestseller List put the indies back on the map in the halls of publishing. It gave the indies a tangible measuring stick that everyone from a marketing VP to a publicity assistant could use every single day. Before Book Sense, each store was seen as a single identity that just couldn’t match up to the collective power of any chain.

And the beauty of it all is that it wasn’t some artifice laid on top of the stores; they were organic programs that got all their strength and information from them. The Book Sense Pick program is just a national staff picks section. And once gathered, the information and the message went back out to the stores – so they could discover books they may have missed. And the bestseller list gave every store invaluable knowledge about books that were taking off elsewhere. AND the Pick and Bestseller news went to the publishers – who could now put indies back into the sales & marketing discussion every day; to the authors – who were thrilled to appear as a Book Sense Pick or on the local or national list; and to the media – who had been in love with calling indies beleaguered, dying, Mom & Pop dinosaurs, and overnight, began writing about the resurgence of the indies. And all because Book Sense just gave the stores a way to pool their resources and report on the things they were doing in their own stores every day. But now they had a national voice. AND that national spotlight only shone a light back on every store’s individuality.

I could ramble on some more, going point for point with Dave. And will be happy to over the coming days and weeks if he’d like. He seems like a really smart guy. I just wish he’d share some of his smarts with his fellow booksellers to the benefit of the greater good AND his own business.