Book Fairs: The World Intrudes

- by Bruce E. McKinney

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Ready or not, information arrives!


By Bruce McKinney

You can be forgiven for thinking that book fairs are unchanging, even immutable and to the casual observer they may look that way. They are in fact a battleground of changing technology that advances on tiptoe at the speed of light. For years publicly accessible databases and pricing history have generally been excluded from shows. Until recently the availability of 'high speed connections' was controlled by promoters sensitive to the majority of show exhibitors who rejected the idea out-of-hand. As a result such access was prohibited, limited or frowned upon. Changing technologies though are shifting control from promoter to visitor and exhibitor. This occurs as book collectors switch to smart phones and sign-up for text messaging and internet access. With such services anyone can instantly confirm availability and price on listing sites and sales history in databases such as the Americana Exchange offers. Not many, though, currently do this via phone. For most this is a future thing although it seems not so far off. For most book collectors the internet is something they access by computer and they don't yet think of telephones as computers. They are and database access via phone is now just a several degrees of separation away.

Be that as it may the flow of information is not waiting for collectors to switch to sophisticated phones. Exhibitor Connect of Los Angeles recently introduced powerful high-speed modems at $99 a day specifically for show exhibitors who wish to provide on the spot research for their clients. With this service only a show promoter's absolute prohibition will keep any single exhibitor from providing access at their booth. Gone is the lame excuse that the service is not available. It is and requires no hook-ups or connections, just an electric socket.

In this way the collector who lacks a smart phone may yet access internet services. Inevitably such access will become a competitive issue among show promoters. It's an attraction to sophisticated collectors and some organizers will provide it to attract larger audiences.

It will inevitably engender initial antagonism among dealers who view the internet as competition but everyone knows that collectors increasingly view material, take notes and negotiate later. The presence of internet access may even promote transactions by shortening the process and encouraging discussion.

For those who wish to carry their access Apple Computer offers a pricey but easy to use phone, the I-Phone, that provides a bright easy to use touch screen with a keypad that is large enough to feel real. In July Apple is expected to introduce the next generation of I-Phones which will run on a faster network. This will bring down the cost of current I-Phones into the $300-$400 range. Their service plans begin at $60 a month and for most people are sufficient. An alternative is the Blackberry 8220, a fast easy to use phone that converts the phone in your pocket into the telephone receptionist that never sleeps. Emails are "pushed" onto your phone as soon as they arrive and the internet is a click away. The price of this marvel is $200 after rebate, the monthly service all in, with unlimited email, is a buck a day.