Friday, March 8, 2013

U.S. Booksellers express optimism

U.S. booksellers, meeting in KC, express optimism


The Kansas City Star
Nearly 500 of the nation’s independent booksellers made it to town last weekend for a snowbound trade conference and celebration of publishing and literature.
In one conference room of the American Booksellers Association’s Winter Institute, several long tables were piled high with advance reader copies of dozens of books coming out later this year, and at a reception Sunday night, booksellers from coast to coast stood in long lines to get autographs from the likes of Sherman Alexie, Lidia Bastianich, Dave Eggers and a host of first-time novelists.
Given the sight, you’d think all the hand-wringing about the death of the printed book were hogwash.
And, to listen to many of the booksellers and industry people on hand, you’d be right.
Sales at member stores of the American Booksellers Association were up 8 percent last year, said Dan Cullen, the trade group’s content officer.
“Contrary to the narrative that is often expressed,” added Oren Teicher, the association’s chief executive officer, “we are doing well … ABA’s membership has shown modest growth for three years in a row.”
In recent trade talks, Teicher has pointed enthusiastically to an “indie renaissance,” partly because of bookstores’ adoption of new technologies but also because of a widening “buy local” movement and the recognition that physical bookstores offer consumers the best experience for surveying and discovering new books.
Earlier that weekend, Eggers, the writer and instigator of a multimedia and literary publishing empire, including a monthly magazine (The Believer), a quarterly food journal (Lucky Peach) and McSweeney’s Books, spent more than two and a half hours signing copies of his work at the Reading Reptile bookstore in Brookside.
During that event he confessed that the book-publishing arm of the operation was its “cash cow” and helped support most of its other activities.
One veteran bookseller at the Winter Institute, Paul Yamazaki of the legendary City Lights Books in San Francisco, was nothing but upbeat about the fortunes of independent literature and the kinds of edgy, important and creative titles that attract book buyers to stores like his. The best opportunity for booksellers, he told me, was in curating a selection of meaningful books that distinguish a shop from the mush of mass-marketed goods.
I’d also suggest that, just as young audiophiles are returning to LPs and culinary types assert the attraction of “slow food,” we could very well be witnessing a retro-fueled backlash against the digital tide. It could be more than wishful thinking that the rise of eBooks has slowed. Let’s call the attraction of ink on paper the “slow books” movement.
In any case, reading and selling books were the order of the weekend. Two Kansas City institutions, the publishing house of Andrews McMeel Universal and Rainy Day Books, the Fairway-based bookseller, held receptions.
The booksellers heard keynote addresses by thought provokers such as Daniel Pink (“To Sell Is Human”) and Malcolm Gladwell, who previewed his next book, “David and Goliath,” which is scheduled to be published in the fall. Of the David vs. Goliath theme, he said, “Amazon has made you better booksellers.”
In one session, Sherman Alexie, author of the National Book Award-winning novel for young adults, “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” talked about schools, censorship and parental challenges to controversial books. “Censorship happens a lot because people don’t know how to read,” Alexie said, according to a report by Publishers Weekly, adding that context is often overlooked.
Despite the snow, many of the book people made it out to enjoy local restaurants, barbecue and sights around town.
“Given the weather we were thrilled that virtually everyone showed up,” Teicher said, “And the energy level and enthusiasm could not have been higher.”
To reach Steve Paul, senior writer and arts editor, call 816-234-4762 or send email to Follow him at

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