Rare Book Monthly

Articles - May - 2003 Issue

Analysis: Is the Internet Making the Book Fair Obsolete?


Clearly, the overall sentiment was cautious with medium to small dealers were a bit more cautious than large dealers. Simply participating was a statement. One dealer asked me, “Do you know how much it costs to travel to New York and set up and man a booth, versus the business I could do by staying at home?” Another said, “For us, it was a very good show, but many people we know did not do well. It seemed to be very mixed.” One medium book seller expressed similar personal satisfaction with the fair, but within the context of a general economic concern: “The fair for us went a lot better than we expected in terms of sales, including big ticket items. I attribute that to the fact that we had the right things at the right time. Smaller ticket items ($5000 or less) are hurting.” But everybody seems to be feeling the pinch, and judging from the comments offered there seems little sense of optimism about the book business and the economy in the immediate future.

The War:
This survey was conducted during mid-April 14th, at a time when the Iraqi invasion was underway. The war was clearly on many people’s minds, not just as a philosophical stance but also as an economic factor impacting on the book business at large. Medium to Small Bookdealers rated the impact of the war at an average of 6.2; Large Bookdealers rated the impact of the war at an average of 4. However, few book dealers of any size discussed the war as a separate topic or made a comment about it. They all seemed to look past it to the economy and the internet as primary controlling factors in their businesses.

The Weather:
As this article noted earlier, the New York City weather was particularly despicable on Friday, the first full day of the fair. It rained torrentially throughout that day. Saturday and Sunday, the other two full days of the fair, faced the converse: each was unusually warm and beautiful in what has otherwise been a very harsh New York spring. Cumulatively, the weather over the weekend of the fair seems to have taken its toll, although here the results vary somewhat: Medium to Small Bookdealers rated the average impact of the weather at 3; Large Booksellers rated the average impact of the weather at 5.4. Perhaps the medium to small bookdealers are a sturdier bunch, or perhaps more of the large book dealers present were more greatly negatively impacted on Friday, the day of non-stop torrential rains. Few – medium to small booksellers or large booksellers – choose to make a separate comment on the weather, except for one medium to small bookseller from Maine who said something to the effect of “You people from New York are wooses [sp.?]. You should come to Maine to really experience bad weather.” The weather factor is a hard one to analyze, but I offer its ratings for whatever they’re worth.

Other Random Comments on Aspects of the Book Business:
Many dealers made unsolicited comments about the importance of book fairs and/or about the state of the book business, present and future. Here is a brief sampling of their remarks.

Rare Book Monthly

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    Bid on iGavelAuctions.com: Austen, Jane, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, London: John Murray, 1818, in four volumes
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    Forum, May 30: Potter (Beatrix). Complete set of four original illustrations for the nursery rhyme, 'This pig went to market', 1890s. £60,000 to £80,000.
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    Forum, May 30: Szyk (Arthur). The Haggadah, one of 125 copies, this out-of-series, Beaconsfield Press, 1940. £15,000 to £20,000.
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