SIBA Gets High Marks

by Kevin Howell -- Publishers Weekly, 9/28/2008 11:28:00 PM

Larry McMurtry is not the only bestselling author to own a bookstore; in January, Kay Hooper and her business manager Linda Parks bought the 18-year-old Fireside Books & Gifts in Forest Lake, N.C. Parks, along with former owner Suzanne Ledford, attended last weekend's SIBA (Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance) gathering held in Mobile, AL from Sept. 25-28. The two arrived early for Thursday's all-day Bookseller School.

"Sometimes when people hear 'bookseller school' they think it's going to be all beginner information," said Ledford, who has stayed on at the store as its media contact. "I'd been working at Fireside since I was 16 and I owned it for the last three years and I still learned new things from that day of education."

New co-owner Parks was a first-time SIBA attendee and was enthusiastic about the re-branding of Book Sense into IndieBound. "I like that they've opened up the idea away from just being book-focused so we can have an indie cooperation that can involve all the local retailers in our town in spreading the word about supporting local businesses. You get more support, the more people you involve," Parks said.

Melinda Cowan, who co-owns the eight-year-old Cowan's Book Nook in Ellijay, GA with husband Barry, found the Bookseller School "very helpful. I like the fact that IndieBound is not knocking the big bookstores but is educating people about how it's better for the community to support local businesses."

Carolyn and Herbert Crows have owned Pablos on Market in Athens, AL since Carolyn left teaching six years ago. ("Old teachers never die," said Carolyn. "They just open bookstores.") The two have created strong sales by becoming partners in education with their local middle school, but took the Bookseller School to gain new insights. Pablos is featured in the current issue of Southern Living on the revitalization of their small town.

SIBA officials made an announcement at the show that could help add to members' holiday sales. To encourage bookstores to insert their holiday catalog in newspapers, SIBA will pay for 50% of the stores's costs up to $500, which means if a store spent $1,000 doing holiday inserts, SIBA would pay for $500 of the cost for each store. "Thats a fabulous incentive," said Elizabeth Grant-Gibson, owner of Windows A Bookshop in Monroe, LA. "Last year I inserted 39,000 catalogs in newspapers and it really boosted our sales."

The accommodations in Mobile got high marks from SIBA members. "It's a nice venue in a brand new hotel and it was nice to have a hospitality suite patterned after the BEA suite," said Carolyn Chesser, owner of the 22-year-old Bayou Book Co. in Niceville, FL. She also liked the fact that "over the years SIBA has developed more educational seminars with less focus on ordering at the trade show." 

Another bookseller happy with the show's location was Russ Adams, whose six-year-old Bienville Books was a mere block and a half away from the hotel/convention center. Adams's store finished construction on a second floor just in time for SIBA visitors. The additional floor more than doubled the store's size by adding 900 sq.-ft. second level over the original 700 sq.-ft. street level store.

The Saturday trade show designated admittance to its first hour to blue badges (booksellers) only. "This helped prevent the usual stampeed of people," said Random House southeastern rep Toni Hetzel. "Booksellers had the opportunity to come in an browse the show and we were able to focus on them and talk about featured titles."

Todd Bottorff, president/publisher of Turner Publishing, used his first visit to SIBA to introduce the house's new Southern fiction imprint, Iroquois Press. The imprint's debut title, Frank Durham's Cain's Version, will be released on Oct. 15. "Regional shows like SIBA are a great place to meet independent booksellers who may not make the trip to BEA," said Bottorff. "I like the accessibility of people at regional shows."

Another publisher making its debut at SIBA was Asgard Press that offered green-friendly calendars, boxed note cards and posters featuring vintage images of college football, MAD magazine, and DC Comics. The press's football calendars expanded from seven in 2007 to 39 in 2008 and 62 different football calendars for 2009. "We've done a number of gift shows but didn't think of doing bookshows til now," said CEO David Kim. "The response has been very good; we'll definitely be back." Kim said the most common comment he's heard about their products was, "At last an ideal gift for that hard-to-shop-for demographic: men."

"I was happily surprised that several bookstores opened in my region within the last year and that their business is good," said Fred Rose, senior sales rep at McGraw Hill professional. "People really seem happy to be here."

"I love SIBA" said novelist Janis Owens, who was at the show promoting her forthcoming memoir/cookbook, Cracker Kitchen (Scribner, Feb. 2009), that boasts an introduction by Pat Conroy. "Ten years ago, I published my first novel and SIBA put it on the front cover of their catalog. So, they're supported me for a long time."