Russ Lawrence, former president of the American Booksellers Association.
More than 30,000 people representing eighty countries are in Los Angeles this weekend for BookExpo America, the publishing industry’s annual three-day gathering. Among the groups is the American Booksellers Association, or ABA, the national trade association for independent booksellers. We speak to former ABA president Russ Lawrence. [includes rush transcript]
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: I am in Los Angeles this weekend for the Book Expo. It’s the largest gathering of booksellers in the country. It’s the publishing industry’s three-day gathering being held this year at the LA Convention Center. More than 30,000 people representing eighty countries are attending, including publishers, authors and panelists. Among the groups here is the American Booksellers Association, or ABA, the national trade association for independent booksellers. They are calling for the unchaining of America with a new initiative called IndieBound.
INDEPENDENT BOOKSELLERS: When in the course of events it becomes necessary for individuals to denounce the corporate bands which threaten to homogenize our cities and our souls, we must celebrate the powers that make us unique and declare the causes which compel us to remain independent.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all stores are not created equal, that some are endowed by their owners, their staff, and their communities with certain incomparable heights, that among these are Personality, Purpose and Passion. The history of the present indies is a history of experiences and excitement, which we will continue to establish as we set our sights on a more unconstrained state. To prove this, let’s bring each other along and submit our own experiences to an unchained world
We, therefore, as Kindred Spirits of IndieBound, in the name of our convictions, do publish and declare that these united minds are, and darn well ought to be, Free Thinkers and Independent Souls, that we are linked by the passions that differentiate us, that we seek out soul mates to share our excitement. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the strength of our identities, we respectively and mutually pledge to lead the way as we all declare that we are IndieBound!
IndieBound! IndieBound! IndieBound! IndieBound! IndieBound! IndieBound! IndieBound!
AMY GOODMAN: Those are all independent booksellers, actually the board of the American Booksellers Association, reading in their bookstores the Declaration of Independents — that “independents” is “T-S” at the end. Joining me right now to talk about this is Russ Lawrence. Russ Lawrence is the former president, as of yesterday, of the American Booksellers Association.
Welcome to Democracy Now!, Russ.
RUSS LAWRENCE: Good morning, Amy, and thank you for having me this morning.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain this new initiative that has been under wraps for a long time, IndieBound.
RUSS LAWRENCE: We’ve been developing this for nearly a year. Our previous marketing program was called Book Sense, and it had been a great way of talking to publishers and presenting our case, and it kept independent booksellers in the game, really. It was a great way of keeping us in front of publishers, but it wasn’t reaching consumers, and it wasn’t helping bookstores reach out to their communities. And so, we started looking for a new way of making that happen. And IndieBound is what we have come up with. It’s a way of talking to consumers about the independent aspect of independent bookselling and our link to the local community and the local first movement in this country, which is really reaching a critical mass right now.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean, “first movement”?
RUSS LAWRENCE: That the local first movement is a growing awareness among consumers that shopping locally at your locally owned independent businesses matters to communities, that when you shop at a chain store versus a local independent — 60 percent more money remains in the community when you shop at the independent. And the effect of that on local schools, local economies is dramatic. And in many cases, local independent bookstores have been the first — among the first businesses to make that case to consumers.
AMY GOODMAN: How many independent bookstores are there in the United States?
RUSS LAWRENCE: There are — it’s actually not a known figure. The American Booksellers Association has roughly 1,600 members right now. That does not include every bookstore in the country, every independent bookstore, but it includes the great majority of them.
AMY GOODMAN: What makes you think you can take on the chains of America?
RUSS LAWRENCE: We’ve been taking them on since — since before there were chains. There’s no doubt that between the early ’90s and the present, there has been a great falloff in the number of independent bookstores, largely because of the growth of the chains and the online bookselling. But in the last few years, we’ve seen something that has been missing from that equation, and that’s new bookstores opening. For ten or fifteen years, we weren’t seeing many bookstores open at all. But for the last year or two, there have been a hundred new American Booksellers Association stores opening, and that’s dramatic. And that makes us think that this is our moment now, that the public is swinging back to recognize the value of independent retailing.
AMY GOODMAN: It used to be the chains were seen as Barnes & Noble and Borders that were killing the smaller independents.
RUSS LAWRENCE: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: But then you have Costco and Wal-Mart selling books —-
RUSS LAWRENCE: Right, right.
AMY GOODMAN: —- which is threatening Barnes & Noble and Borders.
RUSS LAWRENCE: In the last couple of years, another sign that independent bookstores may be bigger players once again is that market share for independent bookstores has remained roughly level for the last two or three years, while the box stores and online retailers cannibalize each other. And so, there’s a tremendous war going on out there, a lot of churning in the marketplace. But independent bookstores are not losing in this game. So, in fact, one of our main suppliers, the Ingram Book Company, has reported that independent bookstores are the only channel in which they’re seeing any growth right now. And so, that’s very encouraging to us.
AMY GOODMAN: Right now around the country, you are talking about IndieBound, not just bookstores, but local business in general.
RUSS LAWRENCE: Right. IndieBound is specifically a program of the ABA, but it’s designed to be very, very flexible. Of course, “Indie” and “Bound” refer to independent bookstores and the binding of a book; it’s very suggestive of that. But it’s also broad enough that we can give an IndieBound decal to the local office supply store down the street, the local independent bicycle retailer, the local independent toy store.
AMY GOODMAN: And what determines whether it’s independent, according to your criteria?
RUSS LAWRENCE: Generally speaking, if it’s not publicly held and if the majority of decisions are made locally. Every —- there are lots of local independent business alliances around the country, and they all have the opportunity to define that as they wish in their own local community. Some will accept franchises that are locally owned. Others define it more strictly, but -—
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, are people going to be reading books in the future in this computer age, actual physical bound books?
RUSS LAWRENCE: We have this discussion every day. I don’t think ink on paper is going to go away. New formats will emerge. People are reading books on screens, and people reading large print books. They’re reading in a number of different formats. People listen to audio books. So the challenge for independent bookstores in the future is to provide what people want to read in the format they want to use, whether that’s an e-book or traditional bound book or an audio book.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Russ Lawrence, I want to thank you for being with us, former president of the American Booksellers Association, as of yesterday.
RUSS LAWRENCE: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: But IndieBound continues.
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