Bookselling is a people industry: Wi9 Seattle for Jenna Todd

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

The Book Fairy: Jenna Todd from Time Out Books, by The Gardens Magazine

This interview is reproduced in full from The Gardens, Issue 17, November 2013. The magazine covers Mt Eden, Epsom, Newmarket, Parnell and Remuera, and is available free at various places in these areas. If you want to learn more, go to (Photo: David Williams, The Gardens news magazine)

Jenna Todd, Manager of Time Out Book Store in Mt Eden, has won one of two Kobo Booksellers Scholarships that will see her taking off to the USA for two weeks. She speaks to Meg Williams about that, and her love of books, and where the industry is headed.

Where did you grow up?
Dunedin. I completed all of my schooling there. Then continued to finish a fine arts degree in photography at the Dunedin School of Art, but I also made a lot of ceramic work and digital installations.

What sparked your passion for books?cv_kristys_great_idea
I didn’t receive any siblings until I turned 20, so I grew up an only child. Books were really what kept me company growing up. I would read extremely fast but still manage to take everything in. I often would read absolutely anything—I remember reading To Kill a Mockingbird when I was in primary school, John Marsden’s Tomorrow series was a favourite, The Babysitter’s Club, Sweet Valley High and, of course, Judy Blume.

What’s your favourite book and why?
Right now, my favourite book is The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson. I like a book that punches you in the stomach, and this does it. It also helps that I used to live in South Korea, and there’s nothing like reading a book with a familiar landscape.rocky_horror_picture_show

What’s your favourite movie and why?
The Rocky Horror Picture Show. My dad sat me down to watch it when I was about five and I watched it every weekend. Some may think that’s a little young, but I love how the movie never questions the character’s sexuality or their quirks—no-one says to Frank-N-Furter, ‘Why aren’t you wearing any pants?’ That’s the least of everyone’s worries.

What’s your favourite song at the moment and why?
Oh, there’s some great music around at the moment. Locally, my current favourite song is Glass Houses by Paquin. It’s wonderful synthesised, shoegaze pop. Best of all, it was recorded at The Lab down the road from the village. I just bought Kiran J Callinan’s album from Southbound Records, and I’m smashing Haim’s album Days are Gone on repeat at Time Out.

How did you first get into photography?
When I got my film back from standard 4 camp, my teacher told me that I was a good photographer. From then on, that’s what I wanted to do. I spent most of 6th and 7th form skulking away in the darkroom, as well as art school. At art school, our photography department was analogue based when I started and mostly digital when I left. I love film photography, but it’s difficult to use in my current nature of work. I photographed my first wedding using film—I would never do that now!

Your photography is primarily images of people, can you tell me why that is?
I guess I mostly shoot people because I am paid to! But it’s definitely what I prefer. Photography is a wonderful way to connect with people, especially when I’m outside of my familiar environment. I love documenting people and events like I’m not there. Most of my work is actually of musicians for promo shots and album art, which is always so interesting and challenging as I am less likely to have any boundaries in style and concept.

What do you do as manager of Time Out?
I make sure our team of 12 staff are all happy and are doing what we’re supposed to do. I’m passionate about high standards of customer service and encouraging customers to spend their money locally. Rostering, special orders, social media, window displays, a bit of book and card buying, going to conferences, delegating! I definitely don’t get to read while working.

Tell me how you feel about winning the scholarship.
As I write, it hasn’t been officially announced—so it doesn’t feel quite real. I imagine this is how you feel in the days before you cash in your winning lotto ticket. I’m very proud to be representing Time Out, the NZ book industry and Kobo at the Winter Institute, it’s great that young booksellers are being acknowledged and supported.

How long will you be in America for?
I’m not quite sure yet—but I think about two weeks.

What excites you the most about it?
The adventure! Also, meeting fellow booksellers and spending time in independent bookstores in Seattle and bringing back that inspiration to Mt Eden.

What scares you the most about it?
The long days at the Winter Institute while being jet lagged. Otherwise, I love travelling and I’ve travelled on my own many times—so I’m not nervous about that part of it.

What differences do you expect to see between NZ and American
independent bookselling?
The American book market is a bit ahead of us in terms of indie bookstores selling e-readers and e-books successfully, so I am curious to see how we can mimic that balance selling our Kobo e-readers and books while growing sales of print books. The ygreat thing about the American market is that many indie bookstores are thriving and I’m really looking forward to seeing it happen. Part of my scholarship is the opportunity to work in an American indie bookstore—so I will be gaining some first hand experience.

How has Time Out helped you in winning? Do you think you would
have won had you worked in a different independent book shop?
There are such wonderful indie bookstores all around NZ, but I don’t think I would have as much responsibility as I do at Time Out anywhere else. I am truly trusted by Wendy to do whatever I want with Time Out, and I think the scholarship panel could see that and knew that I would be able to implement any new ideas without any fuss. There are not many jobs that would allow me zip away for a photo shoot, or be okay with me napping on the couch upstairs after finishing a photoshoot the previous night at 2am. I am extremely lucky that I can pursue my two passions side by side.

Thank you to Gardens Magazine, for writing such a fantastic story about Jenna, and letting us reproduce it.