The Association of Booksellers for Children is exploring a variety of options "to keep the organization viable." In a letter sent to ABC's bookseller members via e-mail on March 26, the ABC Board explained, "A possible option would include becoming a division of ABA, a department of ABA, or another configuration that we haven't determined yet. This would have the advantage of giving ABC the resources of a larger organization while expanding the programming available to all ABA members."
The ABC Board stressed that a merger with ABA was just one option that it was exploring in a "period of unprecedented change" involving shifting consumer patterns, technological innovation, and changing publisher priorities.
In a follow-up letter to non-voting members of ABC, the group's president, Becky Anderson of Anderson's Bookshop in Naperville, Illinois, stressed: "This is only a preliminary discussion, and it is one of many explorations we are having regarding ABC's long-term future.... We are not initiating this because of any problems at ABC right now. It's business as usual, and we are very happy with the work our current Executive Director is doing for us. Rather we are undertaking it as ABC's stewards with an eye to the future."
"We're open to many possibilities, and eagerly await the exploratory committee's report and ABC membership's response to this proposed idea," ABC Vice President Elizabeth Bluemle of The Flying Pig Bookstore in Shelburne, Vermont, told BTW.
The group's executive director, Kristen McLean, commended the ABC Board for "doing a fantastic job of thinking not just about the next three years, but about the next 30. I applaud them for their willingness to take a pragmatic approach to the changes that are transforming this industry, and to think creatively about ways to secure ABC's future, and to make sure ABC's programs are available to everyone who needs them."
The ABC Board told members that, with about 80 percent of annual revenues funneled directly into programming, the organization has neither a large cash reserve nor capital assets, and "small shifts in industry economics will almost certainly have a huge impact on ABC's ability to execute programming without careful planning and pragmatic leadership. A trade association that cannot afford to fund programs on behalf of its membership no longer has a reason for existing."
Choosing to be proactive, rather than reactive, ABC brought the idea of working more closely to the ABA Board at this year's Winter Institute. The organizations have agreed to form a joint task force, including members and staff of both ABA and ABC, to examine all of the issues surrounding a merger. If the task force deems a merger viable, it will also make some preliminary recommendations regarding structure, staffing, and programming. After reviewing the task force's recommendations, the ABC Board will report back to its members.
Anderson told BTW that, to date, she's heard "really positive comments from all sides ... booksellers, publishers, and founding members" of ABC.
Before the task force is convened, ABC will be surveying members to gather further input. After BEA, the task force will begin formal meetings with the goal of generating a report for both Boards before January 2010.