I recently attended the Australian Booksellers Association (ABA) conference and spent a few days at Books Kinokuniya as the recipient of a Booksellers Aotearoa New Zealand scholarship.
My camera roll came back from each conference day just full of photos of interesting slides, information, cool graphs and statistics. On the Sunday of conference, I had been particularly interested in Amy Thuing’s keynote speech and the Indigenous Literary Foundation (ILF) presentation.
I was intrigued by the ILF as I couldn’t think of an equivalent for Aotearoa. Many of the Australian booksellers I spoke to about this thought this might be because Aotearoa did not need of such a programme because the type of work the ILF does is already more integrated within the industry and broader society. Although I don’t feel like I heard anything new about supporting Indigenous and minority voices during the sessions on my visits to bookstores after conference it was good to see how this is being put into from the visible promotion of First Nations authors to donations for gift wrapping going to the ILF.
I feel like I learnt a lot that was not expected from the second keynote delivered by Angela Meyer on sustainability. I thought I knew about this topic and being environmentally conscious, but I’d never fully thought about it in terms of our industry and the steps we can take. I am looking forward to reading the report Angela is preparing for the ABA.
At the trade show, I felt in a trance, talking to so many people and being handed so many books which I was particularly conscious of following on from Angela’s keynote and discussions around the waste involved in advance reading copies.
On Monday people slowly trickled in after a long night. The sessions I was most interested in on day two were the ‘Children’s Panel Session’, ‘Decentering whiteness and traditional forms of western storytelling’, an author panel titled ‘Setting the Place to Rights’ and Andrew Ritchie’s digital marketing session.
During these sessions I once again took many photos and made note of statistics such as 71% of teenagers surveyed still prefer to read printed books. Having grown up with the internet and engaging with book social media such as BookTube and now BookTok I found it thoroughly interesting to hear how the bookselling industry talks about these phenomena. I very much enjoyed learning how digital worlds can be built into the community building aspects of independent bookstores. I came away with a lot to think about and how I could incorporate this new knowledge into what I do in the bookshop.
I took lots of notes during the digital marketing session. Here is a list of just some of the things I learnt:
And I’m now very excited about behavioural economics and nudge theory!
On the Saturday before the conference, I decided to visit Kinokuniya and was completely overwhelmed by the sheer amount of people there. The line for the registers snaked halfway through the massive store right down the centre. I had never been to a bookstore so large before. During my time at Kinokuniya after conference I did learn that since covid with more people working from home they spend Friday prepping for the weekend and getting as much stock out as possible. The weekend is absolutely overwhelmingly busy and they then spend Monday and Tuesday recovering the shop floor. Like most places across Aotearoa and Australia, it is also labour shortages that play into this too.
After the conference, I spent three days at Kinokuniya where I was shown around by Helene and Kate who were wonderful. I was amazed by the amount of stock. Everything was just on a ten times scale to what I had experienced before.
I was given a detailed walk through of the store and learnt their coding system where every book has a number code noting its department and then another number noting the bay in which it needs to be shelved. I got to sit in on some buy-in meetings as well as spending time shelving and on the information desk observing and helping customers (I helped someone find a copy of the Whale Rider which was pretty cool).
I really liked having a nosey at all the back-room stuff and buying decisions that were being made. I also spent some time wandering the shop and thinking about could work or wouldn’t work so well in the space that the bookshop I work in occupies. I also was asked about Aotearoa titles that they should look into. I highlighted some of my favourite poetry by Tayi Tibble and Nina Mingya Powles as well as the work done at small presses like We Are Babies and Compound Press.
So far, I have used my experiences to create social media content for Unity Books including a TikTok. I also created content for our Instagram stories documenting my tour of independent bookstores across Sydney. I had ambitious plans of getting to thirteen stores and made it to nine. Every bookstore I visited had qualities I liked and took note of. I was particularly excited to visit Better Read Than Dead as I have been following them on social media and while there was able to meet with their buyer Lexie.
I returned to Unity Books with lots of photos, ideas, and more books then was probably advisable to squeeze into my suitcase! As well as the conference sessions, being able to talk to so many people was a wonderful experience especially discussing how everyone does things a little differently across stores was super fascinating.
The most unexpected thing I learnt at conference was that PACKING PEANUTS CAN BE COMPOSTED! I feel I have a better understanding of the levels of waste in our industry and the ecological impact it is having. There are options we should be exploring such as not returning old formats, using safer inks in printing, decreasing the cardboard used in creating boxes (like the new UBD boxes) and reducing the industry's carbon footprint. During the members forum many booksellers raised the issue of ‘spaghetti publishing’ - just throwing things at the wall to see what sticks - and how this is an unsustainable practice which I hadn’t thought about before.
I also came away with the knowledge that together, booksellers have the power to hold publishers and industry partners accountable for change. We are valuable in the financial ecosystem and together we contribute to a significant portion of their revenue. Equally, we must remember that our customers can and will hold us accountable for our actions and sustainable practices.
I would like to thank Booksellers Aotearoa New Zealand for funding this scholarship.
Thank you to Robbie Egan (ABA) and Meryl Halls (Booksellers Association UK) for being welcoming and kind. I would also like to thank Helene and Kate at Kinokuniya who allowed me to shadow them and ask questions, see how things are done across the ditch and just generally be a bit nosey. And finally, thank you to Unity Books for allowing me to make the most of this opportunity.
Melissa Oliver (Ngāti Porou), Unity Books Wellington
Tickets are now on sale for the one-day seminar on children’s bookselling and publishing, ‘Between the Covers, Behind the Counter’, held on Wednesday 14 September in conjunction with the Australian Publishers Association (APA).
The conference will be held in person at Wesley Mission in Sydney, alongside catered live-stream satellite events at Avid Reader in Brisbane and the ABA office in Melbourne. Tickets are also available for an online live-stream option for those elsewhere.
Designed to provide professional development and networking opportunities, the conference is targeted towards publishing professionals and booksellers with a particular interest in children’s and YA books.
The keynote session ‘Reading in the Dark: Books in a Crisis’ will be presented by teacher-librarian and author Megan Daley, with panel sessions on children’s publishing, bookselling, working with libraries, author events, and ‘reading for joy’.
Learn more about the event here.
Recent action by the Retail and Fast Food Workers Union (a non-registered Union) in book retailing has prompted inquiries by a number of members and led the ABA Board to determine that a fact-sheet would help with any questions or anxiety members may have about this.
Workers and business owners have certain rights and obligations and these differ between registered and non-registered unions. Hopefully, this fact sheet helps with that differentiation. Log in below to access the pdf.Members read more
The first in-person ABA conference in three years was an opportunity to step away from the day-to-day business of bookselling and to reconnect as an industry – for me it had the additional thrill of being the first conference that I was attending since my partners and I established The Book Nest in Mudgee eighteen months ago. It was a chance to hear from industry professionals, contextualise what we do in a wider sector, talk to publishers, get excited about upcoming titles, and connect with other booksellers.Members read more
The ABA is thrilled to announce the winners of the ABA Book of the Year and the Bookseller of the Year 2022 Awards.
ABA Nielsen BookData Booksellers’ Choice - Adult Fiction Book of the Year
Love & Virtue by Diana Reid (Ultimo Press)
ABA Nielsen BookData Booksellers’ Choice - Adult Non-Fiction Book of the Year
Love Stories: by Trent Dalton (HarperCollins Australia)
ABA Kids' Reading Guide Booksellers’ Choice - Children's Book of the Year
Rabbit, Soldier, Angel, Thief by Katrina Nannestad (ABC Books)
ABA Hardie Grant Children's Publishing Children's Bookseller of the Year
Becky Lucas, Shakespeare’s Bookshop
ABA Penguin Random House Australia Young Bookseller of the Year
Kimaya Charlton, Where the Wild Things Are
ABA Text Publishing Bookseller of the Year
Melanie Peacock, Constant Reader
Congratulations to all our winners!!
You can view the latest guide on the Bookseller's Choice website.
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All ABA-produced marketing material seeks the involvement and contribution of ABA booksellers in the curation of titles. Books promoted in the guides and newsletters are available to purchase at extra terms for Booksellers’ Choice members and supported via the ABA Love Your Bookshop and Kids’ Reading Guide social media channels.
More information and FAQs are available on the Booksellers Choice page.
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