Book Fairs: An Endangered Species?
Younger collectors seem to be looking for something else these days, and for shows to survive they'll have to find a way to remix their formulas into something that accommodates both the aging hardcore and the new-ager. The next generation expects efficient searches, clarity and logical prices. They want material that appeals to them. They don't want to be told what to collect nor be lead in directions. They simply want to be told how to collect. They'll take it from there and when the stars align buy. For them it isn't that they "lost that lovin' feeling." It isn't that, "it's gone, gone, gone." They simply haven't found it yet, but will. No doubt every aging generation shakes their collective heads at the bull-headed upstart next generation and I suspect Thomas Streeter thought the same about his son Frank whose collection recently set dozens of auction records.
What's disconcerting today is that the next generation is now buying in different places. The opportunity for older dealers and collectors to mix it up with emerging collectors is quickly diminishing and that may have negative consequences for both generations. The orderly transfer of material and information is disrupted and both sides lose something.
Bill Ewald, a Sacramento dealer, made interesting comments that point to some of the problems, if not the solutions, for such fairs. He mentioned that just as the internet has intensified collector focus so too it has deepened dealer emphasis. Years ago he found it appropriate to be broad but today is more narrowly focused on valuable, rare and important material that is unlikely to be found elsewhere. Hence, for the collector whose interests overlap a dealer's focus the fit can be spectacular but if their interests fall outside the dealer's emphasis there may be little for them. Bill, who has promoted a show in Sacramento for many years, speaks from experience when he says "Success is what brings them back." But with both collector and dealer focus narrowing this is more difficult to accomplish.
John Hardy, the show's producer told us that though attendance was off, "in dollar terms, this was the second most successful show for Hardy Books. Most of the Western Americana dealers had a very successful show, again in dollar terms. Most of the high end sales came from special collections buyers and veteran, well-known collectors. On the whole, it was a knowledgeable group which bought specialized and unique material. The gate was down but the right folks showed up."
So at this show younger collectors never arrived though their shadow was ever present. Traditional, older collectors carried the day making it successful but cautionary. Book fairs are falling victim to declining attendance as younger collectors find innovative ways to locate material online. It isn't that the material is less interesting. It's only that the alternatives for finding it have increased. For this fair and many others the challenge is to find a role in the changing marketplace.
So the shadow of the next generation of collectors was ever present and it diminished what is and ought to be a wonderful opportunity for people who have never met to find, in their common interests, an emotionally satisfying common ground.
Here are links to a 9 minute movie created from footage shot at the fair:
high resolution, and low resolution versions.
It takes about 30 seconds to download a buffer before the film starts.