Rare Book Monthly

Articles - March - 2020 Issue

A Survey about Book Fairs


The opinions of buyers will matter

Many thousands of our members are frequent guests at book, manuscript, map and ephemera fairs.  Such events are time-old traditions that increasingly seem to be a step behind the many changes that have remade these fields electronically.  And this is important because the efficient use of time online underlies all assumptions about behavior.


If book fairs are less time efficient this survey considers some changes that will radically re-think and re-organize what book fairs may become.


Please share your opinions.


A Survey


How do you interact with rare book shows and fairs?


How many shows do you visit during an average year?


1 to 24


Your purposes for such visits


To meet dealers to buy material

To find interesting material

To offer to sell material to dealers


Material of interest such as







Material at shows is not consistently organized and sequentially displayed.


Do you find shows to be an efficient use of your time?


If a database of all material offered at a show could be a single search, and be marked as “I’d like to buy this” or “I’m making an expression of interest” would you find this capability useful?


Please note that dealers displaying material rarely offer more than 5% or 1/20th of their entire inventory.  If, displaying dealers offer a “show database” that includes both [1] searches of all inventory on the floor and [2] all material is held by exhibiting dealers, would you to be interested to make purchases?


Would you regularly use such databases?


Would you be more likely buy material if you could systematically search from show dealers.


If the show database was posted 21 days ahead of a fair would you be more likely to buy at a fair?


And if the full stock of participating dealers could be identified before the show are you open to have the displaying dealers to direct ship to you?


We will publish the results of this survey in the April issue of Rare Book Monthly.




Posted On: 2020-03-01 15:21
User Name: zephyrbook

Exhibit at 12-14 shows per year, and attend at least another 4-6.

To sell material, buy material, build client base

Books, Manuscripts, Ephemera, Photography & Objects

I have been exhibiting at Antiquarian Book Fairs and Antique Shows on a consistent basis since I apprenticed in the trade in 1987. And yes, the concentrated amount of time is quite efficient for me, far more than a brick & mortar shop which I operated for 13 1/2 years.

Success at book fairs requires many permutations. I maintain a database of over 4500 names which are continually culled. I send 100s of postcards and letters, emails, and catalogues to potential clients at the respective cities or areas in which I will be attending. I will say that snail mail return rate is far higher than any other medium. As such I physically spoke to, sold to, interacted with, and queried 87 of the 227 customers to which I sent postcards, passes & letters to in Pasadena for the recent show.

I cannot speak for every dealer, but I will tell you that much of the material I bring to a Show is specifically for the Show, and is not listed online, downloaded into an electronic format, and is intended for customers to discover through serendipity. Furthermore, I am often making decisions on what to pack the day before I leave for a show, so preparing a database weeks in advance would offer little appeal, or advantage to me.

Customers who regularly purchase from me, interact with me, and/or make an effort will receive advance email versions of the catalogue and occasionally paper copies.

I attend book fairs and other similar venues for buying when I can actually see, touch, and look at the material. I often buy things which would be very difficult to describe to me in a physical description, and often I am purchasing items for an entirely different purpose than what the dealer, or seller may have intended originally.

Posted On: 2020-03-01 20:52
User Name: JohnWindle

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Posted On: 2020-03-02 02:18
User Name: wormandcandy

Attend approx. 6-8 book fairs a year. The amount of material is overwhelming yet the rush and anticipation of discovery is exciting. Many ABAA book members already list their material on the discreet ABAA search engine rendering the proposed idea - although thoughtful - redundant. How would the proposal alter in any meaningful way the search sources that already exist? Most of the dealers also have business and promotional material which further directs clients to individual store/dealer websites.

Looking to evolve these traditional fairs in light of current business models is absolutely critical. Yet increasing the magnitude of inventory is less so than a thorough evaluation of the fair structure and format - beginning with the demographics.

The book fair model doesn't need more inventory data bases, it needs a ground-shifting move away from its narrowing, shrinking demographic.

For example, consider the "Printed Matter" fairs. Attendance numbers are astronomical and the demographics of the attendees and exhibitors vast. Prices are modest yet the excitement is palpable. An old ABAA hand - art book and ephemera dealer - attends both and reports sales at Printed Matter fair 3x-4x higher than ABAA fairs. I'm 65+, and the Printed Matter fair is exhilarating - brimming with young as well as mature book people whereas ABAA events (which I enjoy greatly) tend to be demographically limited to a very narrow group of enthusiasts in the upper range of age and affluence.

It would be best to integrate the old and the new into one event - but given institutional traditions, that may take more time. So symbiotic shadow events are a needed first step.
Look to the California Fair in Pasadena on which you have posted 2 reviews. You report that the Shadow Fair had an enthusiastic reception. Had that shadow been geared toward a younger demographic with a variety of book, paper publishers, dealers and their clientele, the energy at the main fair would have had a referential overlap likely providing a healthy, new group of attendees already with a captured interest.

Of course the details of such events need to be carefully analyzed and projected, but unless the traditional book fair promoters (ABAA, etc.) cast their nets wider, e.g. from the shrinking demographic willing to paying $5,000 - let alone collect - a Hemingway first ed., such events will continue the apparent slide in dealer participation, business growth and customer development.

Whatever caution dealers posses re customer respect, the "Printed Matter" attendees do not damage, drop, deface or destroy the material at those events. They posses great regard and respect as you'd expect from the traditional customer.. Such events are not "the future" of the trade, they are the present. New York, Boston and SF/LA need to take heed.

Rare Book Monthly

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    <center><b>Sotheby’s<br>Collection of a Connoisseur:<br>History in Manuscript, Part 2<br>27 April 2021</b>
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