By Kara McLaughlin
ABAA’s first official webinar took place on Tuesday, May 17, 2011. My calendar, iPhone alarm, etc. were marked for the date and time, and my own excitement built as I sat down to meet the faculty and hosts, namely: Sarah Baldwin, George Krzyminski, Brian Cassidy, Sunday Steinkirchner, Janine Moody and Susan Benne. There was, I will admit, a small learning curve on my part with regards to the actual program that allows for the webinar. Dashing between desktop and laptop, the correct software downloaded and in an instant I was connected with audio, visual and chat exchange.
Sarah Baldwin led us through the important history of the ABAA itself, it’s formation in 1949 and it’s journey to the 21st century bookselling world. She highlighted the remarkably different landscape which booksellers work within, from changes in storefront prominence to technological advances, with understanding that the trade is certainly and profoundly evolving.
The make-up of the ABAA itself was reviewed, from officers to the Boards of Governors, regional chapters, and content/focus of meetings. From chapter to chapter, participation and intensity of focus varies, with website development, lectures, hosting of literary events and involvement in local libraries all hinging on the ABAA members themselves. It strikes me as important to remember as we discuss the trade that in fact we are the trade.
George Krzyminski, a 12 year ABAA member from Westhampton, NY spoke to the variety of membership. Is there a typical ABAA member? What do they sell? What do they look like? What they do share … a love of books. In fact he asserts that the diversity of backgrounds as a whole make up a more relevant ABAA body.
Some have come up from within the trade itself, whether from long-standing bookselling families, from apprenticeship with exceptional mentors or simply growing within their own specialties. A sophisticated collector may enter the trade, having become highly knowledgeable and specialized by virtue of their passion. George emphasizes that however the road brought them to the ABAA, the overwhelming majority of them stay in the organization, thus speaking to the benefits and satisfaction that membership brings.
Next Brian Cassidy, a relatively new member with three years in the ABAA addressed the many benefits of membership. The heavy measure of credibility that the ABAA logo and association brings to an individual is invaluable a tangible (read profit) addition to one’s business. He tallies a condensed list of immediate positives: average sale = jumped; selling higher end material online = easier; quoting to institutions and libraries = facilitated; catalogs = well received. In short, buyers look for this ABAA stamp and your bookselling bottom line reflects this. In practical terms Brian shares that he is often asked the question of how? One large answer: ABAA book fairs.
The ABAA hosts three major (and major is not an overstatement) annual fairs: California (alternatively Los Angeles and San Francisco), New York and Boston. Brian has participated in several and puts the results of said fairs quite simply as this: his worst ABAA fair was far better than his best others. Again, the stamp of ABAA attracts a tier of customers that is exceptional. Many dealers question the cost, expense of exhibiting and travel, but again assures that fairs are, quite frankly, the key that many booksellers are looking for. He highlights, as an example, the Rare Book and Manuscript Conference which hosts a mini bookfair, attracting primarily special collections libraries, essentially a room full of these sought after professionals. With ABAA membership comes automatic ILAB entrance as well, with an exposure and marketability overseas that is unparalleled.
A thriving business reflects more than a well balanced ledger, and here the ABAA holds a special role as well. Brian elaborated on the sense of community that comes with membership. Some 400 colleagues, mostly experts in their field, with whom to exchange many facets of the trade, from reference material to the subtleties of customer relations, the ins and outs of the general trade and industry specific business advice.
Next Sarah Baldwin addressed the application process itself, cue dramatic music. Prospective members should begin to establish references, letters of sponsorship, etc. as they consider their own timeline for formal application. In other words, begin laying down the foundations, the five part application process will require solid, established connections in the trade. Briefly 1. The written application 2. The Biographical Essay 3. The Evaluation Essay 4. Credit and 5. Letters of recommendation.
Sarah addressed with detail the credit component, emphasizing the obvious but perhaps most important virtue of honesty, in this but of course all facets of application, membership and business itself. We are reminded that everything is confidential and that subtleties of one’s financial situation are to be shared with transparency, safe in the knowledge that the board is taking one’s privacy quite seriously.
Now to the dotted i’s of the application, we are able to see the actual form on Susan Benne’s desktop and are taken through this line by line, a most helpful process. First things first, a bookseller needs a minimum of four years in the trade, established by the date of one’s tax ID.
Following that, the nature of stock, sponsors, letters and additional references. This is the heart of who we are as a bookseller and a business person. Questions were asked regarding site visits, most prospective members would establish a relationship with a local ABAA member (in good standing of course) for a literal walk through of one’s stock, as well as sponsorship from other ABAA members that we have a long distance or virtual relationship with.
The biographical essay, essentially a one page “who am I”, should address how we found bookselling (or how it found us!), essentially what led us to the trade and what our former professional life experience brings to bookselling.
The hypothetical evaluation is an important essay, and it this point we are introduced to Sunday Steinkirchner to speak to this. She shares that she prepared to apply for about three months, and shares her specifics for the biographical and evaluation essays. For the bio, they are looking for our professional or academic background and/or our transition into the bookselling world. How did we acquire our knowledge? Who did we work with or for? What is our specialty and what are our qualifications? Much like a college entrance essay, we are explaining both who we are and how we got there.
She addressed the appraisal essay, or the hypothetical evaluation and explains that here, as we write an evaluation of a virtual collection, we have room to share our knowledge and approach with regards to our speciality or author focus. We would share what references, price guides and bibliographic materials that we would incorporate in the assessment, and offer the type of questions that we would ask a collector, thereby summarizing how we handle the evaluation of a collection.
Brian Cassidy touched on one important piece of the application puzzle, that of finding the necessary sponsors and references within the day to day of our business. He spoke personally of his sponsors to better give us an idea of the many ways relationships like this can burgeon. His first sponsor came from interaction and eventual collaboration (working at a fair) with an open store ABAA dealer. His second sponsor was born via CABS, and his third contacted him after receipt of one of his catalogs. It’s intriguing to hear of the many roads that lead to sponsorship and relationships as well as friendships within the trade. And so with that we are advised to look: 1. locally 2. through sales to dealers, which we may want to actively pursue 3. via fairs, notably ABAA but all, both in exhibition and attendance 4. CABS enrolment and 5. through catalogs, even in their simplest forms.
With this large plate of food for thought, the presentation segment of the webinar wound down, with chat and emailed questions trickling in. Two closing thoughts that were shared by the faculty were the importance of interesting as opposed to merely valuable stock, and a noting of the very valuable resources that are available for applications and potential members to educate themselves further: the ABAA newsletter, the listserve and CABS.
It was a pleasurable, fascinating hour and fifteen minutes, with exceptionally detailed answers to many burning questions. There are few aspects that would make the experience better, just my observations and thoughts from the hip.
1. I would have, as the email urged, spent a bit more time getting to know the webinar platform, such as muting/unmuting the voice, experimenting with the layout of the participants, and manoeuvering within the virtual desktop of Susan Benne. I played around with phone vs. computer audio to find which was clearest, etc.
2. Some of the faculty’s audio was quite poor, which I realize cannot be helped midstream, but this is as requested, the good, bad etc. I would love to see as many full video streams as possible, as this brings a true virtual seminar feel that can’t be paralleled.
3. Perhaps I missed it, but I didn’t feel much interaction with other participants, and I did not see most of their video, perhaps most had this disabled or perhaps I did not have the settings correctly adjusted. I would have like to say hello to my fellow inaugural alumni.
Let’s end with the great, which was basically 99.9% of the 75 minutes, I’ll leave the math to someone else.
The faculty was superb and a big thank you to each for volunteering their time and energy (let’s face it, if they were talking to us, they weren’t cataloguing anything!)
I feel much more comfortable with the process, and honestly feel that I could write or call any of the faculty and speak at ease with them about bookselling in general. This is special, important, and as many spoke to, the beginning of a blossoming network in the trade.
With regards to the importance and vitality of the ABAA itself, the pulse of our noble industry: this was duly noted and left me with total certainty that if bookselling is part of my long term plan, the ABAA must be as well. It was an honor and a pleasure to participate in this, which was well planned and offered as a courtesy and received as such.