This past weekend I attended my first NEIBA convention- New England Independent Booksellers Association. This was the first year that NEIBA allowed bloggers to register and I was one of the few of us that I saw around; the conference ran Thursday through Saturday and I attended Friday and Saturday.
Dawn of She Is Too Fond of Books drove down with me Friday morning; due to traffic on the way from Boston we arrived a little late and missed the breakfast and the first session. Actually we got to the convention center about 30 minutes into the first session and Dawn decided to slip in to a talk and I decided to do a little exploring. I asked the concierge at the convention center for directions to a bookstore and ended up at Cellar Stories Bookstore (111 Mathewson St., Providence). Contrary to its name, it's actually upstairs and it's one of those fun used bookstores with treasures stocked to the ceiling. I picked up the Everyman's Library hardcover version of Penelope Fitzgerald's Booker Prize winner Offshore, which I started reading when I got back to the convention center.
At lunchtime, the publishers' reps went from table to table while we ate pitching their new books, kind of like speed dating. Each rep had 10 or so minutes to tell us about their books and pass them around, and then another rep came to the table. I attended a similar event at BEA with a group of librarians; it worked well there and I enjoyed it here, too. And I took lots of notes!
Next was a fascinating talk given by a Google executive about the forthcoming Google Books integration into IndieBound bookstores' websites. I thought everyone did well at this talk; the booksellers in attendance asked great questions about this controversial issue, and the Google and ABA representatives presented their sides ably as well. I had to laugh at the way the Google rep referred to books as "p-books" and "e-books" but on the serious side, I found the discussion so engrossing that I almost forgot to take notes. Google offered a preview of the Google Books web interface on an indie bookstore's site and discussed the advantages of partnering with Google over other ebook providers whose e-products are tied to specific e-reader devices. Booksellers expressed concerns about privacy and the threat that Google would end up taking most of the ebook business away from indies.
The Google session was worth the effort it took to come down by itself, but the day didn't end there. Next up was an early-evening cocktail reception for exhibitors and attendees. At this event, about a dozen or so authors ringed the cocktail area to sign books and chat with booksellers. I met several authors including Daphne Kalotay, whose Russian Winter I'm looking forward to, and Kathleen Kent, whose The Heretic's Daughter was a favorite, and whose new book, The Wolves of Andover, I'm also really excited about. I did a lot of fangirlish gushing when I met Kent and she was very gracious.
Dawn and I went out to dinner with booksellers Michele and Josh, of RiverRun Books of Portsmouth, NH and Sherman's Books of Freeport, ME respectively. We had a great time at a local pub chatting about books, life and everything in between. They're all fabulous people and so smart and interesting; what a good time.
Then on Saturday we returned for the exhibits and spent the morning chatting with publishers, authors, fellow bloggers and more. I finally met Twitter pals Katherine (@katherinebook), Nikki (@timetoread), Constance (@conmartin) and two of the mysterious Boston Book Bums, Kevin and Rachel. I also ran into Twitter and blogging pal Gail (@Irisheyz77) of Ticket to Anywhere. It was a long weekend (and week!) so please forgive me if I saw you and it's already slipped my mind. Nikki is a rep for Scholastic and she visited our table on Friday- and I didn't know that I already kind of knew her until I bumped into her again on the show floor and gave her my card. So much fun.
Overall I thought going to NEIBA was a great experience. It's a booksellers' conference and focused on the business side of the trade, which makes sense. I learned a lot and I think it was a valuable experience but if I attend next year, I think I would try to attend for both days of sessions; I missed Thursday's sessions because I had another commitment. The half-day of sessions on Friday didn't seem like enough, and from looking at the schedule, I think I missed some good stuff on Thursday.
There were not many bloggers in attendance and I'll admit that I felt a little uncomfortable with my blue blogger badge, if only because there were so few of us there. I can understand why some book pros are skeptical of bloggers and it's up to NEIBA and its members to decide if bloggers have anything of value to offer, but I would love to see bloggers have the opportunity to participate on a panel or in some other way. I know I would relish the chance to contribute in any small way I could. For now I just want to thank the NEIBA executives who were gracious enough to allow us to attend and get a better sense of what goes on on the retail side of the book business.