I’m finding it difficult to put in to words all that I soaked in during the American Bookseller’s Winter Institute in Seattle, Washington; but I will try my best!
We arrived on the Sunday afternoon that the Seahawks were playing a game to get into the Superbowl finals. Which meant that the city was eerily dead, the notorious traffic was a breeze and there was a hilarious amalgamation of easily distinguished football fans and booksellers at our hotel, the Westin Seattle. Our New Zealand contingent (pictured below: Jared Raines, Mary Sangster, Jenna Todd and Lincoln Gould) came slightly earlier to recover from the long flight and also attend a dinner with the 50 other international Wi9 attendees. But over the next few days, the football fans were out, and 500 booksellers, publishers and authors filled two central hotels to the brim.
The ABA organised many of these visiting booksellers to go on a full day Seattle bookstore tour; something I had really been looking forward to.While exhausting, I did find it extremely enlightening. We visited a large variety of stores – some were huge, most were medium-sized. We saw a children’s bookstore, a university bookstore and a travel bookstore (just like Notting Hill.) We ferried to a store on an island – the common factor of all of these stores was that they sold socks. I did not see a store as small as Time Out – but I was extremely happy to feel our store was just as fantastic as the stores we were visiting.
Seattle is the home of Amazon and 15,000 of their employees. Despite this, the Indie bookstores I visited seem to be on the up in terms of both sales and community engagement – thanks largely to a nationwide change in consumer behaviour, dubbed the Localism movement. There is good reading about the Localism Movement here. You can also find good reading about the independent bookstore movement worldwide here on the Indiebound NZ website.
The Wi9 officially started on a Tuesday night, at a reception at the large and beautiful Elliott Bay Book Company on grungy Capitol Hill (above). We drunk tap wine, ate sliders and celebrated being booksellers! The atmosphere was terrific and this continued throughout the week.
The conference blew through very quickly. Author Sherman Alexie spoke of his love of Indie Bookstores and author Dan Heath spoke of being decisive. There were daily workshops for international booksellers. Indie Booksellers from all over America told us what to read this year. We listened to Scholastic authors speak while eating ice-cream sundaes. There was a room of advanced reading copies that we could just take, box up and send at a FedEx desk set up in a corner. We could also meet authors of these reading copies and get them signed! (see Jenna below with author Ruth Ozeki)
There were so many special afternoon sessions to choose from and attend – I’m sure every attendee of Wi9 would have had a unique experience. I learned about selling sensitive teen fiction, I listened to how bookstores run their killer events, how to push word of mouth marketing and listened to owners of successful independent businesses in Seattle.
It was a whirlwind of ideas; meetings and swapping business cards over filtered Starbucks and boxed lunches. We ate delicious dinners with the most interesting people and then continued on conversations in the Westin lobby until 2am.
Wi9 bought some of the most wonderful and passionate booksellers together, and I felt incredibly lucky to be a part of these conversations.
The best comments I heard about the book industry was from European International Booksellers Federation chair, Irishman John McNamee, who dropped a pearl of wisdom every time he spoke. ‘Machines don’t write books and machines don’t read books. Bookselling is a people industry.’ The main thing I believe I have taken away from the Wi9 is that we need passionate booksellers and publishers to continue and grow the wonderful communities we have based around our bookstores. ‘We do not choose our customers, they choose us’ (another gem from John) and we need to give them reasons to continue spending their money locally.
by Jenna Todd, Kobo scholarship recipient 2014, and Manager of Time Out Bookstore in Mt Eden