Boston Book Fair Report
So I'm back from the first of what we hope will be a new annual Spring MARIAB book fair, held at the Bayside Exposition Center in Boston. It's a replacement for the old shows at the Cyclorama, and now managed by Marvin Getman who, in my opinion, did a solid job on a new event. The location is well out of the city proper, but the facility is more than adequate with excellent parking, easy access to 93, and a simple load in and load out. I was wary at first with the loads of paperwork and the union electricians, etc., that the venue would be inflexible and ridiculously expensive, but once inside, the hall and its employees were more than fine.
Marvin must have taken some flak for carpeting just a piece of the room (part of the antique dealer section), but he rightly answered the complaints by pointing out that he spent alot of money on marketing, and that more carpet meant less marketing, which would have meant fewer customers. The big question, and one over which which Marvin had no control was, "which customers?"
To me the problem with the show was the lack of knowledgable folks. You can't really market for this (well you can, but it requires a rather sophisticated operation). There were many bodies in the room, and they were happy to be there and interested in what they were seeing but it still requires, for the most part, an experienced collector to pull the trigger on a big purchase. How can we get these people in there? As usual, it's up to us individual dealer to reach out to our customer base and think of ways to pull them in. For some, that in itself appears to run counter to self-interest. Why share customers with other dealers? I can't answer that quickly, but I'll just say that I come down firmly on the side of getting them all in the room together.
These customers didn't show up for me. I spent most of Saturday worried that I was headed for a zero sales fair (something I haven't experienced much recently), and even after a few sales relieved some pressure, it was obvious that this was less than a break-even prospect for me. I was tempted, during at least one sale, to post a large board explaining some of the economics of books fair and bookselling in general. What do books cost me? How much do I spend just to be at the fair? How much will I sell overall? And finally, why the customer who expects a 50% discount is a schmuck. I've always been willing to bargain a bit, and offer to work with a customer on payment, or price. I find it a natural part of the business. But the discounts people ask for these days are ridiculous. Try asking your doctor for a discount, or almost anyone else you deal with on a daily basis. You'd be embarassed. So why do it with booksellers? I won't go into details about how this fair reinforced my feelings that Russians should return to the other side of the wall until they learn some damn manners, but until someone shows me an exception to the abominable behavior (leaving the wonderful Alex K. out of this), I'll stick to my stereotype.
So much for the selling. The buying at this fair was very good, and if we weren't running up against our new shop opening in two weeks or so, I would have bought much more. I found good things to buy from Kevin Ransom (including a neat book on asparagus), Steve Schuyler (important new item for the reference collection), D.T. Pendleton (another reference work), Peter Stern (terrific early history of beer and brewing), Brattle Books (cookbooks) and best of all, a big haul of cookbooks in very nice condition from Dan Dwyer of Johnnycake Books. These are just beautiful examples of a cross section of books from the 40s-60s. There were so many other nice things to buy...
So this was a fair to build on. And I see no reason, with some help from the dealers themselves, and a bit of tweaking here or there, that this couldn't become a very good fair.