With the book fair peak season well underway, sponsors, dealers and collectors are looking forward to yet another rewarding year coming from the traditional rare book marketplace, which proved time and time again to be very much alive. From the very early beginnings in the Middle Ages, despite internal strife and religious upheaval, books became increasingly accessible to those who found their way to early manifestations of book fairs. The period following the Second World War brought with it a new spirit of renewal to the book fair enthusiasm that has yet to lose momentum.
In more recent years, an increasing number of international book fairs are expanding in very much the same way that economic globalization is spreading across the globe. These events are geared towards bringing rare books published in different languages, countries and cultures from the four corners of the earth under one roof for a very limited time. Such events are stacking a record number of stands or booths that have become quite difficult for visitors to cover in a single day.
In parallel, mid-sized regional book fairs or provincial smaller events offer a more casual atmosphere with a selection that is well represented by local dealers and local interest themes. Lately these regional, smaller fairs have come under a considerable amount of pressure as economies have slowed down and attendance dropped. The more successful local events are still holding up well, whilst the smaller ones are under a lot of pressure to survive. Much of the stock on display at events that fail to attract buyers, seem repetitive from event to event. Twenty years ago it was much easier for dealers to unload a large number of their offering during a regional event. These days sellers need to bring out the in-demand merchandise at reasonable prices for quick turnover. Books in these shows, tend to be priced for people at every income level, attracting serious collectors, casual readers and everybody in between.
Whether regional or international in nature, the book fairs around the world serve a very important purpose in the life of book collecting – they help promote and encourage new book loving hobbyists. You just never know when someone that happens to attend such an event becomes excited about a special category of books that motivates enough to start a collection. The presence of a person excited about rare book collecting could make everything seem more accessible, even if that person is just a collector of something like modern best sellers. It does not need not be something fancy or pricey, it just needs to generate interest.
Book fair organizers these days are trying to get a strong attendance by offering appraisal services and seminars covering various topics of interest. They employ high professional standards, decorated booths, large advertising budget that includes a lot of advertising on regional radio and television stations, as well as print ads in trade publications and local newspapers. They are aiming for increased dealer participation, a larger number of fair-goers and of course more money being spent.
Exhibitors vary their range within the pricing spectrum by having items in the “show-and-tell” of the three and four figure range, or middle range or in the low-priced range which are expected to sell out fast. A lot of these sellers take the time to categorize and organize their stands with well labeled shelve breakdowns. For instance, a seller of mainly rare military books may consider to have labels for “Navy”, “World War II”, “Regimental Histories” and so forth. More often than not buyers appreciate the quick reference layout which helps avoid having to go through piles of books unrelated to their area of specialization or interest.
If you are thinking of attending any book fairs this year, take this opportunity to plan ahead on which events seem of more interest to you. There are a number of websites which try to list all the book fairs by area, by date or by importance or event theme. One such website is ours. Please visit our book fair and book sales schedule page that lists events bimonthly and gets updated monthly. Please let us know if it would have been more helpful to you to include longer descriptions for each event.