The Indie Advocate

  • March 31, 2020

How Anna Thorn has built a career championing small booksellers.

The Indie Advocate

Nearly 10 years ago, working as a bookseller at Politics and Prose in Washington, DC, Anna Thorn became persuaded that she needed to prepare herself for “a real job.” So she acquired a graduate degree in public health, reasoning that it would allow her to help people while indulging her passion for travel.

But then came the opportunity to manage a start-up independent bookstore (Upshur Street Books, now Loyalty Bookstores), and Thorn discovered that she already had a real job, one in the world of books. These days, she’s combining two existing gigs with a brand-new position as director of the Independent Publishers Caucus (IPC).

IPC, which includes 33 small and independent presses, offers educational programs for indie publishers, a peer-to-peer “help desk,” and promotion for their works. The challenges for IPC members, according to Thorn, have only grown with the disruptions caused by the novel coronavirus. Small publishers have scrambled to establish remote working arrangements and ensure book shipments.

Because independent bookstores are important outlets for IPC members, the caucus is working to assist those stores, as well, such as by moving author events online. A recent initiative by indie bookstores, which IPC supports, is Bookshop, an online vendor selling discounted books while sharing a slice of every sale with indie bookstores. (It also will send a different slice to this website if you buy a book from Bookshop through our links!)

“Because the indies have much narrower margins, fewer efficiencies of scale, and less diversification,” Thorn explains, the problems created by the virus are worse for them than for the industry giants. She has been helping IPC members figure out state aid programs for small businesses. With IPC members clustered in New York, which has the greatest dislocation from the virus, that state’s programs are a focus.

Thorn layers her work for IPC on top of two other jobs. Through her own consulting service, Bookstore Vagabond, she works with indie booksellers around the nation and applauds the passion and creativity they bring to their businesses.

“They are all working on their websites,” Thorn says, to improve “online ordering and mail delivery, making podcasts, and connecting with their communities,” while also trying to foster diversity and provide platforms for marginalized voices.

Thorn had planned to visit indie stores in all 50 states between May of last year and May of this year, but the virus has thwarted those plans.

Her third gig is with Bookselling without Borders, a nonprofit that offers fellowships for independent booksellers in the U.S. to attend international book fairs. The goal, Thorn explains, is to expand the domestic market for works in translation.

“We are a very insular market. Only three percent of books sold in this country are translations,” she says, which means American readers are missing out on a lot of great writing.

So, did Thorn find a real job? Maybe three of them. That’s life in the world of books.

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