Shows: A Thousand Uneasy Pieces
By Bruce McKinney
In Southern California, over the weekend of September 9th and 10th, The Santa Monica Book, Print, Photo & Paper Fair sought to welcome, under a single banner, collectors of various persuasions. Books of all types, ephemera, images and manuscripts were on display. The following weekend, the Thirteenth Annual Antiquarian Book Fair was staged in Sacramento. This month the 2006 Seattle Antiquarian Book Fair & Book Arts Show will be held on the 1962 Seattle World's Fair grounds on the 14th and 15th. The fall west coast show season is underway. Shows are an integral and important aspect of the book business and their performance mirrors the changes and upheaval in the world of collectibles.
In Santa Monica the show, with 82 participants, was promoted by Bustamante Enterprises who have successfully staged collector events for years and as recently as June staged a successful Antiques fair at Pasadena. This effort however fell short of many participating dealers' expectations for sales and traffic. Reasons are difficult to gauge. The venue was good and the parking plentiful. Even to out-of-towners the site was easy to find.
Many dealers, even if disappointed, have a sanguine view as shows are hardly the only sales channel that has been increasingly difficult in recent years. Every aspect of the business, from finding attractive material to connecting with motivated buyers, has become more challenging. Ken Karmiole, an experienced generalist who exhibited successfully, explained it this way. "At shows I hope to meet new customers but I expect to make most of my sales to other dealers whose clients will want my material." John Howell, a new comer, had a tougher time and explained it this way. "I've worked for other dealers and worked their booths in past years. This year I'm on my own. Saturday was quiet so on Sunday I adjusted my prices and closed enough deals with dealers to pay the tuition on my ongoing dealer education."
In Sacramento the following Saturday Bill Ewald staged The Thirteenth Annual Sacramento Antiquarian Book Fair as a one day event September 16th. This show had a much more upbeat feel. Fifty dealers, selling material of every description, found happiness while making show visitors genuinely pleased. The show had a more blue collar feel than Santa Monica but the material and prices offered was a good fit with the receptive audience. Four hundred and ninety-four admissions were recorded.
At this fair AE conducted an exit survey of 30 random buyers who agreed to spend a few minutes talking about this show, their motivation for attending, and their approach to collecting. What we learned is worth discussing.
If dealers are frustrated in their efforts to find buyers they are not alone. Collectors feel exactly the same way. More than half those surveyed said they attended prior incarnations of this fair and indicated they were prompted about this year's fair by the promoter's postcard mailing. About 25% said they learned of the fair in the Sacramento Bee, the local daily newspaper. A few said they saw an advertisement that day and came over for a look.