Observations on Bookselling from the San Francisco Fair
Commenting on the fair's performance, Chris writes, "I did pretty well. I made my costs back and made a profit, though it was not the best book show in terms of sales that I ever had." She made several sales to fellow booksellers Friday, had solid sales to "civilians" (non-booksellers) on Saturday, and was saved from a slow Sunday by one large sale to another bookseller. She notes that it is unlikely she would have made any of these sales without the show.
Commenting on the economic situation, Chris says, "Given the current state of the economy, especially here in Silicon Valley, where some people who last year had millions now have nothing, I am not surprised that the book fairs have not been good for many. I think it helped my bottom line that I released the catalogue the same week as the book fair."
To view this catalogue online, click here.
Chris reported four sales in the $500-plus range, several more at $100-$300, and around ten priced $25-$40. She also purchased a dozen books for $700 and expects to be able sell each for three figures
Chris also had some positive thoughts about fairs beyond their immediate financial impact worth considering at a time when the book fair is increasingly at risk. "In my opinion, book fairs ought not to be judged solely on sales. Yes, one must sell enough books most of the time to at least cover one's costs. But book fairs are also about finding other good books I wouldn't have otherwise found and forging connections with other booksellers I wouldn't have met by working alone in my dining room.
“Is every fair a success financially? Not always, but I take a long term view - that the new acquisitions sold later and the deals done later with sellers I've gotten to know at fairs usually help offset the costs. That said, I have made a profit on eight of ten fairs over the past three years. I might feel differently if I lost money consistently."
Finally, "Would I do this fair again? Absolutely! I love book fairs."
There we have it, an interesting juxtaposition: The seller, who we expected to be unhappy, was pleased with her results. The visitor, who we thought would find much to like, was disappointed. This is not so bad. The factors which would hurt the vendor - inadequate foot traffic, "buyers" with no money - are hard to rectify.
Those issues which bothered the visitor, on the other hand, are problems which can be corrected. Sameness, confusion, poor service are all curable conditions. Perhaps more of these fairs can be improved if they are made more relevant and more consumer friendly to today's customers, rather than repeating time-worn formulas as old as the books themselves.