Sunday, September 27, 2009

An Open Letter to IBNYC Bookstores: NAIBA: It's Not Just for the Suburbs Anymore

The NAIBA fall conference is a week away -- and lucky you, it's not too late to register. Stephanie Anderson (Bookavore) and I recently sent a joint open letter to NYC bookstores about the value of the conference -- it's reproduced below. Hope to see you in Baltimore!

As two NYC booksellers just starting our careers, we've recently observed two things:

1) Attending the fall regional booksellers conference hosted by NAIBA (New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association) has been incredibly good for our professional development and for our bookstores.

2) Very few New York City bookstores ever send booksellers to the NAIBA conference.

Why this contradiction? We speculated about the possible reasons that New York City bookstore owners have not been attending the regional conference or sending their employees, and thought about some answers. The result is an expression of what we've found worthwhile about the NAIBA conference, and a modest proposal to NYC stores to consider sending a bookseller to the conference this year.

"It's too expensive."
This is an understandable reaction, especially in this economic climate. But as we all know, it takes money to make money. And more importantly, the education offered at the NAIBA conference can literally add money to your bottom line. For example, the session on "Capturing Coop" (Sunday, 3:45) alone could make your store enough money in a year to cover the cost of transportation, hotel, and conference registration for one bookseller or more, depending on your store. The " Online Right Now" lounge (Sunday and Monday), where experienced booksellers offer free one-on-one help with blogs, Twitter, Facebook and other forms of social media, could grow your customer base exponentially. The Pick of the Lists sessions (throughout the conference) could give you the tools to handsell dozens of books that might otherwise languish on your shelves.

You could save the $100 registration fee (which admits up to 8 booksellers) by not going. But that would mean you're accepting the much greater loss of the potential profits the NAIBA educations sessions can create for your store.

"I already know this stuff."
Send your staff instead! If you've been in the business for 5 or 10 or 20 years, you might feel like you have nothing new to learn. But chances are you have younger booksellers working in your store who would benefit hugely from participating in this forum for professional development and community. Both of us (Stephanie and Jessica) found that our first NAIBA conference literally changed our lives: we went from being retail employees to feeling like members of a professional community, and our subsequent involvement in our stores and in our industry was the result. If we want our bookstores to prosper for years to come, it's worth investing in our frontline staff – the Emerging Leaders of our industry. You might find you have an incredibly talented and motivated bookseller right under your nose.

"I can't take the time away from the store."
The NAIBA conference is two days of being able to think about your store overall: the Big Picture. It's a time to talk to your colleagues and realize that your problems are similar and that you can share solutions. It's a chance to step away from the daily sales and profit margin, and think about where your store is and where it's going. It can be hard to justify carving out time from your daily routine. But it may be the only way to keep your store from stagnating. Without time to look at your bookstore from a different perspective, you risk making the same unconscious mistakes over and over again.

"Going to the conference is a luxury, for successful stores with lots of time and money."

Actually, the stores that attend NAIBA regularly tend to be prosperous bookstores because they invest the time and money in education and development. The conference rejuvenates them, gives them ideas, and makes them better bookstores. Your store can be one of those prosperous stores too.

"NAIBA isn't for me – my New York store has nothing in common with bookstores in small towns and suburbs."
This is perhaps the most entrenched reason for not attending the NAIBA conference – and there are so many reasons why it's counter-productive! First, the education offered at the conference is universally applicable: urban stores as well as rural ones need to understand co-op, create community, learn about books from graphic novels to children's books, and use technology to reach their customers. And when you begin to talk with your colleagues from upstate New York, Pennsylvania, Washington, D.C., New Jersey, and Maryland, you will probably find that you have even more in common with them than you do with the other retail stores on your city block. Independent booksellers are colleagues, no matter where their stores are located, and always have something to offer each other – New York City stores do themselves a disservice when they refuse to take advantage of that community.

Feel like the mix of titles and authors at the conference doesn't reflect what sells in your store? Well, not attending the conference is a little bit like not voting in an election – you can't then complain that you're not represented. NAIBA has the potential to be a powerful force with publishers, attracting major talent and funding and making indie bookstores' voices heard – but not until a higher percentage of bookstores in the region attend and participate.

So not only does the NAIBA conference offer a huge number of benefits to New York City stores, your participation has the potential to make it even better. We'll both be there this fall – we hope to see you there too!

Best Regards,

Stephanie Anderson, WORD (Greenpoint, Brooklyn, NY)

Jessica Stockton Bagnulo, Greenlight Bookstore (Fort Greene, Brooklyn, NY)

The NAIBA Fall Conference will be held October 3 to 5 in Baltimore, MD.

For more information and to register, visit

or contact executive secretary Eileen Dengler, 516.333.0681 or