I had butterflies in my tummy when I read in Bookselling This Week that July 1st is the deadline to participate in the ABACUS-15. For my readers not familiar with ABACUS, it’s an annual survey conducted by American Bookseller’s Association (ABA) that presents critical financial data voluntarily submitted by ABA member bookstores. The report includes comparative tables based on basic retail measures such as annual sales, profitability, selling space, sales per selling square foot, years in business, and regions. This is the only resource on financial data for U.S.-based independent bookstores.
As a prospective bookseller, the ABACUS is my lifeline.
Yeah-yeah, it’s a great benchmarking/strategic planning tool for booksellers already in the game; but as prospective bookstore owner, the ABACUS is my lifeline! Judging by the 230 ABACUS-14 respondents (out of over 1,700 member companies), I don’t think my bookseller-family realizes just how critical their participation is to the future of indie bookstores… and what it means to communities like mine.
Dear Bookseller Family,
I’m a prospective bookseller from the South Bronx. (Yes, that South Bronx in New York City and we read here.) There’s underserved and then there’s unserved–my borough has over 1.4 million residents and 10 colleges, but we only have one bookstore for all of us. It’s a Barnes & Noble that we love so much–not because it’s all that great or easily accessible, but it’s all of what us Bronx lovers of literature have. I’m striving to change that by opening an indie bookstore here that really gets us. That’s where you come in.
Everyone thinks I’m crazy for opening a real-live bookstore until I go “BAM… here’s the ABACUS!” Then they listen to me. Then they want to help me.
One of the first steps in my journey was to invest in a Provisional membership with ABA; with that, I get access to your ABACUS.
The first time I went to see a space, the property owner said “but nobody reads print books anymore… brick-and-mortar bookstores are dead… blah, blah, blah”. They don’t know what we know. When I wrote my business plan, advisers said “you can’t really project your sales and costs, there’s no reference for your market”. They don’t know what we know! Everyone thinks I’m crazy for opening a real-live bookstore until I go “BAM… here’s the ABACUS“! Then they listen to me. Then they want to help me. All they see is the death of Borders and Barnes & Nobles falling fast and hard against Amazon; they don’t know that indies are a different beast–something the mainstream media has just recently caught on to. ABACUS gives me something tangible, credible, and easily digestible to educate people that are integral to my progress.
We need your participation; even if your space is 600 square feet in a little town I’ve ever heard of. #allbookstorelivesmatter
Now, I know you’re all swamped with operating your stores and creating styles for big corporations to steal and run with. Or maybe you think your operations are too insignificant to make a difference. We need your participation; even if your space is 600 square feet in a little town I’ve never heard of. Yours are the first reports my potential landlords look at because one day I will be small and new. For you vets in the game, the first thing my potential investors look at is your data to measure my potential with all my unique variables–that the ABACUS so beautifully breaks down. Your surveys arm me against all those “you-can-never-be-Greenlight-in-Brooklyns”. #allbookstorelivesmatter
The next time ABA sends you a reminder to submit your financials, think of me and my community; and how going the extra mile can put a book in the hands of an unlikely reader and help end our sector’s stigmas. Recall the time when you were just like me… scared, alone, and faced with naysayers. Now look at the amazing impact your store has had in your community; help make it easier for those you inspire thousands of miles away. Help us teach them what they don’t know and what your resiliency has proven. I have made do with 230 surveys, but imagine the noise I could make with 1,775 (members as of May 2016)!
~Noëlle Santos aka 1st Noëlle
Future owner of The Lit. Bar