Dispatch from Winter Institute: The rigorous and playful challenge of convention

I’ve attended the BEA Day of Education before, but that’s a trade show with a lot of moving parts and this is a conference and I was unprepared for the difference. Most significantly, I have to acknowledge that the ABA is a tremendously well-run organization with a complicated membership and a nearly-impossible mission. To take a crowd of booksellers with incredibly different goals, markets, and specialties, and to attempt to teach us the fundamentals of running a competitive business in a dismal climate is either Herculean or Sisyphean, but it’s Greek, anyway, and it’s difficult and I was deeply impressed on this trip by their professionalism, their warmth, and their expertise. Clockwork.

But one of my criticisms of the event itself remains. Though we heard from Small Press Distribution and some legitimate small publishers had representation there through other distributors, this is still a big publisher’s game. One idea for indie publishers: take advantage of the critical mass of people who give a damn and crash the Institute. Make some calls, get a few dozen booksellers together for a dinner, and—outside of the Institute-proper—sit us down for an hour or so with your publishers and your editors and your authors and your publicists.

The most reassuring aspect of this gathering though was the lack of fear. My conversations over the last few years with other booksellers have been colored by confusion and by a willful disregard for the realities of our market. That changed this week. Listening to Robert Sindelar or Clark Kepler at the Large Store Roundtable though, and I got a sense that some serious minds are at work and they’re not afraid exactly. They are looking at solutions, they are thinking strategically, and they are setting goals.

We have, as booksellers, faced our fears quite openly, individually and collectively. I am a cynic and I am a skeptic, but the trade’s ongoing optimism is, in spite of it all, quite legitimately inspiring.

Rep picks are coming up next, also the wonder that is Other Press, and more bookstore links. . .


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  1. Hi, Jeff,
    I am loving the dispatches from the Winter Institute as it was one event I always wished I could go to and never did. It’s good to hear that the initial wave of fear post-Kindle is modulated with strategy. And genius of the Other Press to sponsor a bookseller.

    I look forward to reading more about your impressions and thoughts on the Winter Institute and how you view independent bookselling moving.

    Posted by Soo Jin Oh | January 23, 2011, 12:54 pm
  2. Good to have you back, sir.

    Posted by KAO | January 24, 2011, 12:00 pm

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