Rare Book Monthly

Articles - May - 2003 Issue

Analysis: Is the Internet Making the Book Fair Obsolete?

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On Book Fairs:
Bob Fleck of Oak Knoll Books: “I think that the New York Antiquarian Book Fair is a particularly good forum for showing off books. There is no way to replace seeing and feeling books.” Many dealers expressed similar sentiments: “I think that book fairs have and will continue to have great importance to the collecting public.” Bernard Gordon of The Book & Tackle Shops (who didn’t attend the fair, citing the high costs involved) opined: “I think that book fairs are an essential part of bookselling and getting the public presence to feel and see the nature of the printed word.” Another dealer who didn’t attend due to high costs made a similar observation: “Book fairs are important and should continue.” Yet another dealer who didn’t attend due to financial reasons stated: “I think book fairs are very important as the primary interface between customer and dealer.” “I feel that book fairs are quite important re: exposing people to the book business,” said Jon Mayo, part-owner of Tuttle Antiquarian Books, who like so many others did not exhibit or attend due to the heavy costs involved.

On The Decision Not to Participate in the NYABF:
One prominent but unnamed New York book dealer explained her rationale for deciding not to participate in the NYABF: “We don’t participate as we have our own open shop every day. In previous years, we had all of our staff over at the book fair and there was no one left to help the customers when they came into our shop. We show the flag better at the shop we tend to do great business during the week of the fair, as many of the visiting dealers stay in town for a few days and go around town shopping for books. We certainly experienced an increase in sales during this past weekend’s book fair even though we did not exhibit at it.”

The Pessimists:
Then there were two significant but hard to classify comments that I felt could go generally under the banner of pessimism (or perhaps realism, depending if you look at your glass as half empty or half full.) First there was one dealer who said: “I think it’s important that book fairs continue, but we booksellers are aware that attendance and productivity are suffering because of the internet.” And then there was the ultimate comment, whose utterer wanted it to run exactly as it is printed here: “It’s all going down the whirlpool -- the fairs, the internet, reading, etc.”

In Conclusion:
Ultimately, this non-scientific but nonetheless valid survey reinforces for us many of the viewpoints that are present in the book world: smaller, often younger dealers without storefront shops are more comfortable with and conversant on the internet than are their generally older, more financially successful counterparts. The war is a negative factor in everyone’s minds, and is on all of our minds a lot. The economy – a subject not entirely separate from the war – is in a recession and all dealers, small, medium, and large feel its pinch. And the crummy weather on the first day of the fair did nothing to help anyone’s sales, although it seems to have impacted everyone differently.

Finally, the most contentious issue in the book business today remains also the most contemporary one and the one that we at AE are most concerned with: the internet, its advances, and its effect on how the book business is conducted, how it impacts customer knowledge and their book buying behavior. To some minds, the internet has introduced a shift in balance of power in the book business, taking power “away” from dealers and “giving it to” customers. To other minds, it is a marvel and a vast technological improvement that continues to reach new heights in what it can do and enable. Time will tell all.

Rare Book Monthly

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