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ABA Town Hall Meeting Recap: Bookselling under COVID-19

Posted By Nicki Leone, Wednesday, March 25, 2020

On Thursday, March 19th, SIBA hosted an hour-long online town hall meeting with the American Booksellers Association via Zoom.  The main topic was, naturally, the impact of COVID-19 on bookstores and what the ABA was doing to respond to the crisis.

Since that meeting, only a week ago, the landscape has already changed drastically as the United States has documented an exponential rise in the number of confirmed coronavirus cases. Measures that were discussed as “coming” – forced closures, shelter in place orders – have now arrived. SIBA stores are struggling to adapt to a new environment where their greatest strength, their physical presence in their community, has been restricted by quarantine measures.

“It is a question of when, not if, these measures will be implemented in our communities,” commented SIBA Executive Director Wanda Jewell at the beginning of the town hall meeting. The “when” arrived for many stores within days.

Allison Hill

On hand from the ABA to answer questions were Allison Hill, CEO, Joy Dallanegra-Sanger, COO, Ryan Quinn, Member Liaison for SIBA Territory, and Dan Cullen, Senior Strategy Officer.

Bookstores should also note these essential tools:

“Our number one priority is how to support bookstores so that they are all still here when the crisis is over.” – Allison Hill

The ABA’s primary focus is has been on advocating for measures that will relieve bookstores of the immediate cash flow issues they face from forced closures. One of the first steps was to donate $100,000 to Binc, the Book Industry Charitable Foundation.  Binc’s priority is to provide emergency aid to booksellers who face unexpected expenses.  

At the same time, since stores find themselves having to switch to online sales to maintain any kind of cash flow, the ABA is waiving membership dues through June and has expedited payments on Indiecommerce and Indielite sales and implemented a donation module that stores can activate on their IC sites.

Another step was to create a continuously updated page of resources for booksellers. The ABA has called on SIBA and the other regional associations to help them research local, regional, and national resources for stores with a focus on “what’s real, what’s now, and what’s the most actionable for booksellers.”

In advocating for bookstores, the ABA is lobbying with the national and local governments for grants rather than loans, moratoriums on evictions, and extensions of tax deadlines. Their priority is that any money made available by economic stimulus measures is easily accessible to bookstores and small businesses.

They are also interceding with publishers on behalf of stores for delay of payment options. Hill noted that publishers are willing to offer grace periods to stores on a case by case basis, and strongly encouraged booksellers to talk to their reps.  When questioned how the crisis was affecting publishing houses, Hill noted that the greatest concern is how long the crisis will last, whether or not publication schedules need to be delayed, how to promote books in the current situation, and what the industry will look like in the summer and fall as trade conferences are postponed or canceled, and book events and tours are no longer feasible.  

Hill noted that keeping supply chains open has been a priority in all coronavirus responses. Ingram has been declared an “essential” service, as have USPS, UPS, and FedEx for shipping to residential (though not commercial) addresses.

And because the situation for stores can change very rapidly, the ABA is very concerned with helping stores anticipate “the next stage” of change in their community, whatever it is. There is usually only a 24-48 hour window to comply with shelter-in-place order.  For that reason, they have added resources and technology to their Indiecommerce team. They have also created a team to research options for hosting virtual author tours, working with publishers for more open licensing agreements that would allow bookstores to host virtual readings, storytimes, and book clubs.

They are also collecting data – store hour changes and closings, and other operations changes, as well as tips and “best practices” for stores that find themselves unable to get to their building. (“Bring your gift cards home with you!” said Pete from Green Apple Books).

Despite the gravity of the situation, Hill closed on a positive note, reporting that the ABA’s own financial managers feel that although the next two quarters will be volatile, consumerism will come back strongly once the COVID-19 crisis has passed.

Questions and Answers from the ABA Meeting:

How do we support our employees if we are shut down: Is it better to furlough or layoff employees?

The ABA is researching options for stores and will post information on their COVID-19 page. Furloughed workers can claim unemployment, but it varies by state how much. They should not perform any work. Layoffs are also state-regulated, with some states offering work-share programs.  COVID-19 and Labor Law

What is the difference between Bookshop and IndieLite. Do we need both?

Stores should explore all options. Everything helps. IndieLite sales earn more per transaction than Bookshop sales, but signing up to be a Bookshop affiliate puts you in the general pool. Bookshop is also returning the full 30% of sales to their store affiliates for the next eight weeks, in effect returning their entire profit to the stores. Stores should also look at partnering with Libro.fm. They have already raised $20K for stores.
Bookshop | IndieLite | Libro.fm

Will publishers stop taking returns?

Publishers are committed to staying operational as long as possible, but they may be required to close their warehouses.

What will happen to ABACUS?

ABACUS has been canceled for the year, on the basis that any data collected now will not be relevant in the new financial landscape.

 

Tags:  Covid-19 

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