Northern California Independent Booksellers Association (NCIBA) members were greeted by protest drums last Friday, as striking hotel employees interrupted an otherwise banner year for the NCIBA’s Fall Discovery Show.
The October 3-5 convention was held inside the Oakland Marriott City Center, one of the Marriott properties picketed by more than 2,500 striking hotel workers in the Bay Area. “Thursday attendance was through the roof,” said NCIBA executive director Calvin Crosby, noting that the strike diminished attendance on the final day of the conference. Along with a few attendees, one exhibitor and one speaker had declined to cross the picket line on Friday.
“People loved the fact we’re back in Oakland,” said Crosby, as the convention returned to the city for the first time in more than a decade. With over 350 attendees and a few new vendors, NCIBA attendance held steady compared to last year—but NCIBA had anticipated exceeding 2017’s attendance before the strike landed. Early registration was up for the show and membership expanded as the NCIBA counted six new member bookstores in 2018: Vallejo Bookstore, Twice Told Books, Owl Company Bookshop, Wolfman Books, Booklandia, and Crawford’s Books.
NCIBA also made some changes to its catalog program, teaming up with the Southern California Independent Booksellers Association (SCIBA) to release a first joint holiday catalog that features 150 titles. The new partnership increased the catalog’s promotional budget by 40% and raised the annual catalog’s print run by 300,000 copies. “Our whole purpose is to drive people to bookstores to buy these particular books,” said NCIBA catalog coordinator and All Things Book consultant Vicki DeArmon. “I’ve got 1.1 million catalogs dropping across the state of California, and 90% of those are inserted in newspapers.”
Publishing reps shared the year’s biggest books with booksellers for two days straight. A 1,000-page illustrated Ursula K. Le Guin hardcover drew attention on the exhibition floor. “It’s a big event,” said Simon Schuster rep Cheri Hickman, showing off Charles Vess’ illustrations for The Books of Earthsea: The Complete Illustrated Edition, an omnibus work celebrating the 50th anniversary of the beloved fantasy series. “The Earthsea books have never been published together by the same publishing house. Le Guin chose the illustrator, and wrote the introduction before she passed,” said Hickman.
Other buzzy books included: She Would Be King, a debut novel by Wayétu Moore; From Crook to Cook, a Chronicle cookbook from rapper Snoop Dogg; The Dreamers, Karen Thompson Walker’s new novel about a fantastical sleeping sickness epidemic in Southern California; The Long Path to Wisdom, Jan-Philipp Sendker’s retellings of folktales from Burma; and Dry, a Neal Shusterman novel set in a future California wracked by drought.
Educational programming filled both days, including a session about maximizing sales on Independent Bookstore Day, an initiative that began in California and will celebrate its fifth anniversary in 2019. Samantha Schoech, the San Francisco-based director of Independent Bookstore Day, revealed some news about the program: booksellers will order directly from Ingram in 2019 and Chronicle Books will sponsor the official tote-bag for IBD, giving booksellers an 80% discount on the bags and free shipping—improving the profits booksellers can make on the annual souvenir.
In another session, Stanford psychology professor Dr. Jennifer Eberhardt discussed her forthcoming book, Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think, and Do. The author urged booksellers to encourage “positive contact” between different social groups in their community space, “working together for the same goals, rather than competing.”
Memories of 2017’s challenges were still fresh at the Fall Discovery Show. “It was nice not having to get ready for the show out of the trunks of our cars,” said NCIBA administrator Ann Seaton, recalling how NCIBA staffers and booksellers were displaced by devastating wildfires before last year’s show. The Book Industry Charitable Foundation (Binc) helped NCIBA booksellers last year, and Fall Discovery attendees bought special glow-in-the-dark skull rings to raise funds for Binc this year.
“We come into this space with all our world-weariness, but when we get down to talking about books, everything gets better,” said Melinda Powers, the head book buyer at Bookshop Santa Cruz, describing her positive experience at the show while sporting a lime green superhero cape on Friday. “That’s how bookstores are right now for the community as well. And if you have a cape, it’s even better!