I have just attended the fifth annual American Booksellers Association Winter Institute (Wi5) in San Jose, California. As the conference was located in the middle of the Silicon Valley (and the fact they had a awesome acronym, Wi5) the theme of the conference was digital. This included hot topics like eBooks but also covered social media, eCommerce and promotional design. The three day program was a combination of speaker presentations and bookseller education sessions. The 500-plus booksellers in attendance were all extremely enthusiastic, informed and hungry for more information. The passion everyone had for books, bookselling and the whole industry was intense and the whole atmosphere completely infectious. The success of The Winter Institute lies in the professionalism and dedication of the full-time ABA staff who each year construct a program that is educational, diverse and fresh.
The highlight of Day One was a session presented by ABA Chief Operating Officer, Len Vlahos:“Techniques and Tactics for Online Website Promotion “. This was a fantastic and extremely constructive session that primarily focused on how to drive sales through your website by gaining a better understanding of the way search engines like Google operate and how to use it for your advantage. The day finished with a publisher forum which was dominated by the Macmillan vs. Amazon War and Apple’s Agency Model for eBooks. The session ended with a brilliant question from a bookseller that asked that instead of delaying or windowing the release of eBooks and worrying about the price of an eBook vs. a hardcover why don’t publishers start releasing the hardcover, the eBook AND the soft cover all at the same time and give readers all their book format choices up front. Unsurprisingly the question was not answered but the more I think about the concept the more I like it.
Day Two started with a breakfast session where Verso presented their 2009 Survey of Book-Buying Behaviour. While Verso reached some interesting conclusions consumers’ actual market behaviour seemed to contradict the study’s results. The study can be found http://www.versoadvertising.com/survey/ .
I also attended an eBook 101 discussion which was extremely informative but the highlight of Day Two was the Reps’ Picks Speed Dating. The 500 Wi5 delegates were all allocated table numbers and there were between 6-10 booksellers at each table with an empty space at each table. Sales Reps from around the country then had 15 minutes to present titles to the table. While the session went for over two hours (and I was getting pretty tired towards the end) this concept was one of the best sales conference sessions I have ever attended. Personally I loathe conferences where I have to sit for 30-60 minutes while someone reads word-for-word off a PowerPoint presentation. The speed dating played to the reps’ strengths and I came out with a list of books I wanted to read. Even better at the conclusion of the session the ‘galley’ room was opened and most of the books that we had just heard about were piled high on tables for us to take. Later that night we got to meet 40 of the authors too!
Day Three saw the second part of Rep’s Picks Speed Dating. But the highlight of the final day was a lunch presentation by Daniel Pink, author of DRIVEN. His talk and book focused on motivation and what the driving factors are that motivate people. Rather than focus on what motivates our customers his talk instead focused on what motivates our employees. Like every single session at Wi5 this gave a new angle for booksellers to explore in their shops.
The conference wrapped with a small reception while East Coast booksellers tried to find out if they would be able to get home as Washington DC was hit with a huge blizzard. The whole Wi5 conference has been one of the most valuable experiences I have ever had. I have met some really fantastic booksellers and I have learned so much. I can’t wait to get back to my store and start on my new to-do-list.