Booksmart – Booksellers’ meeting looks into local and green business issues

The American Booksellers Association is hosting a “Winter Institute” downtown next weekend (Jan. 25-27). The three-day meeting is likely to have bookstore owners and operators thinking about much more than what product they’ll have to push. A lot of the program focuses on sharing information and building alliances for alternative and green marketing.

Publishers see the event’s opportunities for business promotions, but the public shouldn’t expect much of the traditional immediate spillover from when a gang of prominent media figures gathers in town. Even though there’ll be a huge industry meet-and-greet with authors on Friday night, few of the expected prominent authors (Tobias Wolff, Andre Dubus III) have releases that have already hit shelves and might be promoted with reading appearances in local stores. Randy Smith of Destinations Booksellers in New Albany says his store won’t have any tie-in events, but he’s looking forward to that part of the program. “Most authors don’t have new books out. So these are ‘preview picks.’ The smart publishers have distributed advance review copies about a month in advance.”

There are exceptions. Young adult author Nancy Yi Fan (herself a young adult) will be signing her new fantasy novel “Sword Quest” at Barnes and Noble (4100 Summit Plaza Drive) at 4 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 25.
Despite that example of a chain bookstore benefiting from an author who’s already flown in, many Winter Institute participants see the chains in a less-than-glowing light. Witness the participants at Saturday’s lunch meeting: Bill McKibben (“Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future”), Stacy Mitchell (“Big Box Swindle: The True Cost of Mega-Retailers and the Fight for American’s Independent Businesses”) and Michael Shuman (“The Small-Mart Revolution: How Local Businesses Are Beating the Global Competition”). Oren Teicher, chief operating officer for ABA, points out how the meeting will emphasize the association’s mission “to highlight the role of independent booksellers as pillars of the community and help develop and strengthen local independent business alliances.”

Smith seems to be wondering if he could work some follow-up on the appearance of Rep. Jay Inslee (D-WA), author of “Apollo’s Fire,” who’s one of a panel on Green Retailing. Carmichael’s managed to get in on one event, co-sponsoring an appearance by Gary Hirshberg, CEO of Stonyfield Farms and author of “Stirring It Up: How to Make Money and Save the World.” Hirshberg’s appearance is at Metro United Way, 334 E. Broadway, Friday, Jan. 25, at 2:30 p.m.

On the one hand, all participants who come to the conference at the Louisville Marriott have a common goal of seeing books sold. That’s what’s behind all the airline tickets for the authors to show up to schmooze and autograph with retailers for just a few hours. As Teicher puts it, “expose upcoming titles — create a buzz for three to six months in advance.” But at the same time, on this weekend our city is hosting a critical mass of experts on the economics of locally owned businesses. Author Mitchell can be expected to build on that message at a post-conference event that Louisville Independent Business Alliance is working on assembling for her on Sunday, Jan. 27 (Rainbow Blossom, 3738 Lexington Road, 3 p.m.). So it’s very possible that this meeting will have a local impact that’s less in terms of happily stuffed bookshelves and more in terms of educating and inciting local retailers.

Teicher wants independent booksellers to have full appreciation for everything they can do for the viability of their own businesses as well as the quality of life for their communities. He sees “shop local” campaigns and “living economies” projects gathering momentum into a movement that “has begun to resonate. Now, metrics are coming out that show that local businesses have greater economic impact on the community. That communities harm themselves as they give tax breaks to bring in a large business.”

With the ABA contributing to both product development/distribution and healthy local economies, we should continue to enjoy a diverse set of alternatives for where we go and pick up the upcoming “Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex” and “The Secret Adventures of Charlotte Bronte.”

“Winter Institute” is sold out for industry participants, but info on some of the presenters can be found at Contact the writer at [email protected]