Hollywood, the land of [bad] dreams
By Bruce McKinney
The determined and the interested in the world of books arrived in LA for the once every two year ABAA book fair over the weekend of February 12-14 and came away more concerned than enriched. The fair was thinly attended and the material, on offer, noticeably dated. The net result was disappointment along with the occasional 'good fair' comments to keep hope alive. The ABAA, the American Antiquarian Bookseller's Association, has long been the preeminent trade association in the rare book field in the United States and its disappointing show can not be discounted. The rare book business, an insular trade in the best of times, has seen in recent years the economy in decline, its core audience aging and its hold on the public's imagination diminished. As well the timing is complicated. Mid-winter school vacations, the super bowl some years and Valentine's Day others create diversions that every year deflect some of the natural audience. As was reported by one wag in the trade "we may all soon need to get real jobs."
Jeremiahs in the ABAA are talking about moving the next LA Book Fair to Pasadena. "If we can't increase the attendance let's reduce the cost," to which Bill Reese, the preeminent dealer in printed Americana, commented "if we move to Pasadena we can reduce both the cost and attendance."
Others are talking about making San Francisco the permanent site of the west coast fair, an idea Mr. Reese favors. "The audience is larger and more motivated, the costs lower and San Francisco a destination. The appeal of a great book fair in a great town is a great combination."
Book fairs are of course only one thread in the braid. Open shops, catalogues, listing sites and tailored offers delivered by email, phone, letter and in person are also in the mix. Few dealers pursue all avenues with equal vigor if at all. Those who emphasize shows, to the exclusion of other selling avenues, are particularly distressed by the recent lackluster results. LA, although a glamorous destination, today lacks the core of open rare book shops that once made the city a nirvana for the book trade. Urban sprawl, slowing highway traffic and the internet have all contributed to make LA a big place where it's increasingly hard to draw a big crowd.
While participants generally reported disappointing results, Bill offered "I did what I thought we would do. Several transactions were initiated and they later closed. I have no complaints."
The feedback about the Antiquarian Book, Print and Paper Fair in San Francisco the previous week, February 6th & 7th, was better. Attendance was strong the first day, Saturday, and quieter on Sunday. Participants expressed relief that costs in San Francisco were lower while the outcome was good. It simply makes participation easier. The significantly higher costs for the LA fair may also have caused some dealers to bring their most expensive material that in some cases had been around for a while. Book fairs thrive on fresh material.