The American Booksellers Association Winter Institute has just finished - four days of intense networking, gathering over 700 bookselling professionals together for an unflagging demonstration of American independent bookselling's resilience and resurgence.
A contingent of five UK independent booksellers attended this year and left inspired and emboldened. Nic Bottomley from Mr B's in Bath, Rosamund de la Hey from The Mainstreet Trading Company in Scotland, Jane Streeter from The Bookcase in Lowdham, Polly Jaffé from Jaffe & Neale and Sheila O'Reilly from Dulwich Books spent time with almost 600 US booksellers and all are returning with ideas to change their businesses. A common theme from them all in advance was an absolute commitment to making the trip pay dividends in terms of ideas they could implement - and a lot of ideas flowed from the full day bookshop tour on the first day. Visiting the iconic Tattered Cover Bookstore was only one highlight; visiting The Bookstore Bar & Bed in suburban Denver got us thinking about Bookshop B&B; visiting the newly opened City Stacks and Children's Book bookshops got us thinking about stocking non book product, about how to display kids picture books, how to use the space you have to best effect. First day and the ideas were flying.
(From left) Sheila O'Reilly, Nic Bottomley, Jane Streeter and Rosamund de la Hey outside Children's Books.
Add to this the release of the explosive ABA/Civic Economics Report into the impact of Amazon on US high streets, sessions on urban regeneration, on the New Localism movement, on building communities - by the end the group was jokingly spurning any more ideas being proposed because they could absorb no more.
Of course the most powerful ideas are those that echo with your own experience, and for the UK booksellers there were many echoes, despite the difference in scale in the event and in the overall market - minimum wage legislation, bookshop events, self published authors, effective leadership - and of all the (42) international visitors, it's arguably true that the UK visitors gained most. The indie market share is similar in both countries (around 10%), consumer behaviour and attitudes are similar, Christmas trade patterns were similar (up in excess of 7%), the supply chain has a similar shape (US suppliers like Edelweiss/Above the Treeline, Ingram and NetGalley are already operating in the UK indie sector) - but it was the combination of the familiar and the new that gave most energy.
That and a fabulous talk by Amy Cuddy, author and TED presenter, on creating confidence through body language - adopt the Wonder Woman pose for two minutes every day and change your attitude to yourself and your capabilities. Watch out for a new bold mood spreading through the indie sector when these five booksellers start talking to their colleagues and behaving like Wonder Woman.
Meryl Halls is head of membership services at the Booksellers Association.