Postcard from Winter Institute

Josie Leavitt - February 5, 2010

I’m in San Jose, California, for the ABA’s fifth Winter Institute, a gathering of 500 booksellers seeking two days of bookseller education. Here are my highlights thus far.
The morning started off optimistically with a keynote by Jack McKeown of Verso Advertising, who gave us a breakdown of a survey that his company did about book-buying behavior (the whole survey is available here). It was a fascinating presentation, full of good news in terms of book-buying habits. Baby boomers and retired folks read the most and they love indies. I’m giving you the down and dirty, but that was the upshot; read the whole survey to learn more. One great thing Verso Advertising is doing is creating and processing a survey for ABA in time for presentation at BEA; the best part about this is, booksellers can contribute questions at the website. Links for all of this should be up on as well as the Verso site. People left the breakfast not only well fed (eggs and two kinds of meat) but encouraged.
After this I headed to the small/medium store roundtable discussion. I love these gatherings with other booksellers. We all come ready to share what’s working and what’s not. About ten tables with eight booksellers per table gathered and covered topics ranging from staffing and how to have robust events to how best to deal with local authors. The ideas were free-flowing. Staffing issues focused mainly on hiring practices. Some stores have a quiz that prospective applicants must fill out by hand, others have typing tests (never a bad idea), and the best thing I took from the hiring part was to let other staffers participate in the interview process.
The discussion really took off when authorless events were discussed. I was blown away by the creativity of some stores. One store is having an Undead in the Dead of Winter event and they’re bringing in a mortician to talk about natural deaths. I believe the store owner said this event was already sold out. Wow. What a fabulously creepy and great idea. Other stores have had cookbook nights with a local restaurant cooking from six of its favorite cookbooks and speaking about the books. Forty people attended the dinner and each bought around $100 of cookbooks. Simple, off-site and a great partnership with a local restaurant, this event was a winner.
Lunch was Rep Speed Dating. Every fifteen minutes a rep would come booktalk their favorite books from the coming season. A quick but informative session. The galley grab after lunch was very busy with folks eagerly trying to get the books they had heard about.
Winter Institute is always a whirlwind of activity that gets me thinking creatively about bookselling in a way that nothing else can. A gathering this large of booksellers who’ve come to learn is exciting and fun.

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