As Antiquarian Booksellers, we are intimately familiar with book fairs. For those of you who have never attended such a fair before, we highly recommend it. For collectors and bibliophiles, scholars and tradesmen alike – book fairs are a wonderful place to get a feel for our world. All sellers bring a variety of items, and you can make note of who has items of interest to you and research them further. It is a wonderful place to make contacts with like-minded souls and spend time talking books. Tavistock Books has now been in business for decades, and we like to think that our fearless leader, Vic Zoschak (who also happens to be the current President of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America – the ABAA) has a fair amount of experience in this field. We share with you a mini Q&A with him and his thoughts on the past and the future of the antiquarian book fair.
Vic, Thanks for answering our questions. We’ll get right to it – what changes have you witnessed in antiquarian book fairs over your many years in the trade?
When I started doing fairs back in the early 90s, book fairs were an opportunity for collectors to see a bunch of material they may not otherwise have access to. There used to be lines around the block awaiting entry to the fair. No more. Remember, then, there was not widespread internet access… so no searching 20,000 bookstore inventories with a click of the mouse. Today, a collector, or just an individual searching for a given book, need not attend a fair to look for material. Today, when buyers search for their title on vialibri.net, they search the inventory of 20,000 booksellers. That’s an unprecedented access to inventory that has not been possible at any other time in bookseller/book buyer history. What that means for fairs is that most regional fairs have gone by the wayside…. in those early 90s, on the West Coast, I did 20+ book fairs a year. Now, 3. The local/regional fairs just don’t bring in the number of buyers that they used to. And if exhibitors don’t sell books at the fair, they won’t come back. Today, it’s my opinion, that a book fair needs to be an *event*, perhaps coupled with other *events* that same week. The ABAA book fairs are trending in this direction… not only will a potential attendee have the book fair to attend, but also events offered by sister organizations, like the Grolier Club, or the Book Club of California, or the Ticknor Society. As I think about them now, in response to your query, I think fairs are a somewhat endangered species…. continuing to exist, but in a fragile state and in need of attention.
How are the fairs different for you now as President of the ABAA?
Well, here there is, in fact, a challenge that faces the ABAA… our New York Fair, and our California fair, are too close together on the calendar. There’s a long back story there that brought this to pass, much too long to recount here, but suffice it to say, there’s no easy solution. I only wish, as President, I had a magic wand to fix it. But I don’t, so it’ll be a significant issue that my successor will, hopefully, be able to resolve.
What fairs that you attend (New York, LA/San Fran, Boston, Seattle, Sacramento) have stayed the same throughout the years and which have changed? Have they changed for the better?
I now only exhibit at 3 a year: Sacramento [local, one day, and easy to do], as well as the ABAA CA fair [this coming year in Socal, Pasadena]. But I do attend, as a visitor, all ABAA fairs, which means I’ll be heading to Boston in a week. This year, I also exhibited in Seattle, which was fun, but not particularly remunerative, so it’s a question mark for 2020.
Re: change? Here I have to give a shout-out to Jim Kay, the Sacramento promoter. He’s kept that local fair alive and vibrant. And I also want to give a shout out to the local ABAA book fair committees – Boston, NY & California – who have the task of keeping our ABAA fairs alive & well. In this challenging economic environment, they are doing a bang-up job in my opinion. They have evolved to meet the needs of the current book collecting milieu.
How do you see antiquarian book fairs faring (pun intended) in the future?
I think we’ll be fine, especially if we continue to market our fairs as ‘events’. Give people more than one reason to attend. There’s a lot of competition for an attendee’s time & money; let’s make our pitch for our fairs be one that compels.
Amen to that! Keep the book fairs coming, people.