The appeal of books is still universal - and America is no exception. Bookselling in the United States did not become popular for some time, even though printing was introduced in Boston as early as 1676, in Philadelphia in 1685, and in New York in 1693. Benjamin Franklin had done much to make the trade illustrious; but, in spite of his labors, even as late as the beginning of the 19th century, few persons were engaged in it. Books for scholars and libraries were imported from Europe. After the second world war, printing-presses began to be in great demand and developed rapidly. With the spread of newspapers and education, the demand for books likewise arose. The works of well-known English writers and authors such as Walter Scott, Lord Byron, Thomas Moore, Robert Southey, William Wordsworth and many others were reprinted - without even the smallest payment to their author or proprietor. In fact, in the so-called "American" catalogue of books printed between 1820 and 1852, literally half the names of the authors are British. Then, after the Civil War, the high price of labor, and the duties laid on American booksellers and publishers, brought about rapid changes. In order to protect a new and growing native industry, American booksellers and publishers, communicated frequently with England and made liberal offers and changes for early sheets of new publications. The reason for such liberal attitudes was the absence of any international copyright law. Through the years, Boston, New York and Philadelphia, have managed to keep their supremacy as bookselling centers. At the same time, however, the main policies and practices of the American booksellers and publishing world have gradually assimilated those that were so long practiced in Europe.
In 1900, the American Booksellers Association (ABA) was founded. It was started as a non-profit organization to promote independent bookstores. At that time and now, its members still support freedom of speech, literacy, and programs that encourage reading. Many smaller American booksellers are troubled today about the potentially negative impact on free speech by the mega-chains, such as Barnes&Noble, and web retailers like Amazon.com. Their concern is that publishers may be forced to meet the requirements of these retailers. This means that the control over what books, and what ideas, are to be circulated will be centered in the hands of these powerful companies. The ABA is headquartered in Tarrytown, New York, and can be found on the web at www.BookWeb.org. The association also hosts the annual ABA Convention in conjunction with BookExpo America each spring. It is also the sponsor of Book Sense: Independent Bookstores for Independent Minds - the national integrated marketing campaign. Book Sense includes the Book Sense Picks program, the Book Sense Bestseller lists, a gift card program, and www.BookSense.com. It even has its own system of laws and rules (the name of the document is BYLAWS OF THE AMERICAN BOOKSELLERS ASSOCIATION, INC.), a strategic plan that includes ABA's Mission, ABA's Vision for the Independent Bookselling Industry in the Year 2007, and ABA's Strategic Planning Goals and Objectives.
In 1984, another American booksellers association was formed. It was called the American Wholesale Booksellers Association (AWBA). It is a national trade organization that represents a multifarious group of book wholesalers. The AWBA members include wholesalers of all sizes, with all types of inventory and specializations, from all areas of the nation. Its three objectives are:
-to educate bookstore owners/managers and publishers concerning the fundamental role of the wholesale sector
-to develop and promote industry standards;
-to provide all wholesalers with a forum through which industry-wide questions can be addressed and discussed.
Membership is open to any North American wholesaler whose book sales account for at least 75% of its total annual sales. Sales to entities under common ownership may not exceed 49% of the total annual sales. The organization also welcomes book publishers as associate members.
Having a comparatively short history, the US bookselling market has already taken on special significance for American booksellers in particular. These two powerful organizations are known to exercise control over the wholesale and retail sales of books in this country.