Category Archives: Book Fairs

The Virtual RBMS Showcase: One Bookseller’s Experience

This past week saw another virtual book fair “hit the e-shelves”, so to speak. After over a year of Covid, we are more than ready to return to normal, in-person book fairs! Here the Master and Commander of Tavistock Books, Vic Zoschak Jr., gives his opinion on the matter of virtual book fairs, the RBMS Booksellers’ Showcase in particular.

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Well, that’s another one in the books.  “What?”, you ask…   that would be last week’s ABAA-RBMS VBF, held in conjunction with this year’s virtual RBMS conference.  When in person, the ‘ABAA Booksellers’ Showcase’, as it is called when held attendant to the real event, the number of exhibitors is usually in the ~ 35 range, primarily due to physical limitations imposed by conference venue, so a positive for the 2021 rendition was the ability to expand the number of exhibitors that could participate, so in this instance I understand that approached 60 [or more?].  However, given this expansion, a question then comes to mind, did the size of the [revenue] pie stay the same, such that average sales per exhibitor decreased…?  

I’ll never know the answer to that particular question, as others’ sales data is only anecdotal, and in this instance, results shared tended to mirror that of an actual book fair, which is to say, mixed.  A few of those that did well are happy to publicly proclaim same.  Those who have more modest results, more often than not, tend to stay silent.  Tavistock Books, as well as a few more frank colleagues, reported ‘soft’ sales, i.e., for us, 5 items sold, which was 10% of our total listings.  So hardly robust, but nevertheless, we were content to have a presence, keeping our name in front of the librarian community.

What about VBFs in general?  My view…  there seems to be a number of them every month these days, with Marvin Getman, bless his heart, the primary promoter hosting same.  But as a result, I see a ‘devaluation’ taking place, somewhat mirroring the public’s view, and subsequent demise, of physical book fairs that took place over the last 2-3 decades.  For example, I not only didn’t exhibit at Marvin’s last event, I didn’t shop it.

All this said, I recognize, this is just one bookseller’s view.  And this bookseller is nearing the end of his career, so I acknowledge my ‘aggressiveness’ level in pursuing the VBF trade somewhat less than many others.  Which is to say, this take of mine on VBFs may, or may not, represent the majority of the trade.  But these views do represent me, and I’m looking forward to once again having the physical interaction that comes with real events.

With that in mind, see you in Oakland, February 2022.

Vic

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Entering a Post-Covid Bookselling World – Q&A with Vic Zoschak

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Well, all… this year has been a doozy for almost everyone! We don’t know a single soul that was completely unaffected by this global pandemic, and many sadly affected in traumatizing ways. The bookselling community has done its best to stay connected and functioning during this time, and we thought it might be a good idea to pick the brain, almost a year later, of our fearless commander Vic Zoschak Jr. on how Tavistock Books was affected by these past many months and what he sees for bookselling in the near, vaccinated future!

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Q: So Vic, over a year of bookselling during a global pandemic has passed us by! How did you, personally, fare, and how did your patterns or habits change throughout this time?

It’s been a YEAR has it not Ms P?!  Despite the retail challenges posed by COVID to many businesses, it’s my understanding that most in the antiquarian book trade did ok.  I know that’s true for Tavistock Books.  Sales were stable, but expenses declined significantly [no travel, and no employee expenses], so revenue actually increased over 2019.  And to be honest, the lack of general public foot traffic in my shop turned out to be beneficial, in that I was better able to concentrate on cataloguing, & quoting, material from my backlog.

The one significant habit change for me came about mid-summer last year…  after Samm left to head back East, I started closing up the shop at 3 pm.  I’m getting to be of an age when I just want more leisure time!
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Q: Did you see any shift in what was being purchased (less of one thing, more of another)?

Not that I could readily point a finger at…  my sub-specialities haven’t changed, so those continued to be patronized by those interested in that sort of thing.
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Q: What are your thoughts on the many virtual book fairs (in terms of both selling and buying), and how do you think they impacted the world of antiquarian bookselling and book collecting this year?

I think they are here to stay.   While a VBF can’t offer the same breadth of material in one’s ’stand’, that’s counteracted by the fact that expenses are but a fraction of what you would spend to exhibit at, say, an ABAA fair.  For example, the Feb 2020 ABAA fair in Pasadena cost cost me, with booth fees, display cases, travel, meals, etc, etc around $10K to exhibit; in contrast the most recent ABAA VBF was under $1K.  As a result, just in terms of $$ & ¢¢, the most recent ABAA VBF was much more profitable.

What is missing from the VBFs are the intangibles…  dinner with colleagues, the chance to personally interact with customers walking the aisles, that sort of thing.

I suspect in the future, once the nation has moved beyond the COVID restrictions, we’ll have a hybrid schedule of both types of fairs.

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Q: What do you see for the book world going forward? For example, do you think virtual book fairs will become a new norm in a post-Covid world? Do you think people might have taken up collecting during this time? Any insights you may have in the shifts of our little corner of the world we’d love to hear about!

I’m of the opinion the recent VBFs proved the viability of digital book fairs…  I remember, oh over a decade or so ago, there was an attempt at an ILAB on-line only fair.  I participated.  The mechanics were a bit clunky & it was poorly attended.  I did not sell a book.  I don’t think another such was planned until COVID made it necessary to do so.

So again, I think VBFs are here to stay, though it seems they’re popping up every time I turn around.  I don’t participate in all of them, and to be honest, I don’t shop them  with the same diligence as I did a year ago when they first came on the scene.  Probably that’s to my detriment, but to be honest, I find I’m very much missing the real thing.  I loved hoping on a plane to Boston in November, primarily just to shop the fairs …  I’d spend an hour just in Peter Luke’s booth, flipping through all his boxes.  That is, me, and at least 20 other customers/booksellers.  I currently don’t have that motivation for the VBFs.  But still, I’m also appreciative of not having to pack/schlep/unpack/display/repack/schlep/unpack & re-shelve 15 boxes of books.  I’ll try to find a happy balance that works for me.

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Q: So tell us… what’s coming up next for Tavistock Books?

The $64,000 question!  Well, I did sign a lease extension through 2022, so we’ll continue to be at 1503 Webster Street for a bit…  as to the immediate future, Jim Kay has said he’s planning an in-person Sacramento fair for September, so given I’ve gotten my shots, I’m inclined to exhibit there [presuming no big COVID surge between now & then].  And theirs a couple VBFs coming up in which I’ll participate, the next one being the WESTERN STATES, April 29 – May 2nd.  Come visit!

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Find out more information on the Western States Book & Paper Fair at www.rarebookla.com

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The Book Fair in Pasadena… and the End of an Era

This past weekend saw the 53rd California International Antiquarian Book Fair held in Pasadena. We gave Vic and Samm a few questions to ruminate on while experiencing the fair and their responses don’t disappoint! This fair was also a bittersweet occasion as our Master & Commander Vic Zoschak Jr. ended his two year tenure as President of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America (or the ABAA) while there. See how they felt about the state’s biggest book fair below!

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Q: So another year, another ABAA fair! How did you two feel going into this 2020 Pasadena Antiquarian Book Fair (or the 53rd California International Antiquarian Book Fair, to be precise)?

V: Actually, we took a beating at fairs in 2019, so there was a bit of trepidation as we approached this first one of 2020.  Nevertheless there never was any question as to whether we would exhibit, as it’s the ABAA California fair, and I want to support our local chapter’s efforts.

S: As Vic mentioned above, our fairs in 2019 were rough to say the least. I, too, was a bit “on edge” about how things were going to go – after all, book fairs can make or break your month, or even your season. Luckily though, this book fair – first of the new year – was a great start!

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Q: What all did you focus on bringing this year? How were sales?

V: There were two themes for the fair: celebration of the vote for women, and Ray Bradbury.  We focused on the former, and everything found in our booth had some connection to women, be it as author, illustrator, character, printer, owner, or whathaveyou.

Happy to report sales were steady throughout the weekend, though without that one [or more] blockbuster transaction that would have propelled us into the ‘excellent fair’ category.  But compared to 2019 fair results… night-n-day.

S: I would say our booth was 90% items by women – which we really enjoyed putting together as a tribute to this year’s fair theme, celebration women’s suffrage. Though of course we could not leave out our main man, Charles Dickens, and found a way to incorporate him into our mix as well!

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Q: How would you say this Pasadena fair equates with previous Pasadena fairs?

V: Better, see above.

S: Once again, I must agree with Vic. It was better. We also tried something new this year –  as we had two main, lighted display cases – which while beautiful can also make people feel a bit too timid when it comes to inquiring about an item. Therefore, we also had several boxes of items in mylar sleeves out in our booth. People seemed much more intrigued by this concept as they were able to flip through and pull items out and touch them in a more accessible manner. I truly believe this helped make our booth a bit more “shoppable”. 

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Q: How would you say it holds up in comparison with the Oakland fair? Obviously the Oakland fair is a bit easier for us, but in terms of customers and purchases is there a markable difference?

V: Well, this a difficult comparison…  I think our Pasadena booth location this past weekend contributed significantly in our results.  Our Oakland location was not so positioned.  We’re hopeful for 2021 this changes, especially since, in 2021, John Knott & Tavistock Books plan to have adjoining booths, where we’ll open things up & have a larger, more visible footprint in the aisle.

S: Yes, a comparison between the two is a bit tough as, especially for us locals the Oakland fair is much easier!  We are able to bring more items… and I can sleep in my own bed (huge plus)!

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Q: Samm, how was this Pasadena fair for you? This is your second ABAA fair, right? What was your favorite experience down in Southern California?

S: Set up went relatively quickly, so I had some free time to go to the norton simon museum with a colleague!  sometimes its good to break away for a bit.  but overall the fair was good, met and chatted with several new institutions about what collections they are building and how we can assist.  there were some critiques i was hearing from others but i felt it was a really nice fair and a lovely time down in Pasadena!

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Q: Vic, how did you feel heading towards the end of your Presidency of the ABAA? Did that play any part in this fair?

V: Yes, my term as President concluded with the ABAA’s Annual meeting this past Sunday morning.  As President, I feel like I personally experienced aspects of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity [as I understand it], which is to say, the two years went by in a blink of an eye, but some days dragged on interminably!  lol

My successor is Brad Johnson, in whom I have unwavering confidence that he will successfully meet all the future challenges the Association may face.  And let me again, in this forum, give a shout-out to Brad, who tremendously surprised me with a parting gift…  a San Francisco Giants jacket!*  OMG, I was blown away.  Brad, thank you!

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Q: What’s next on the agenda for you both? Perhaps some to catalogue, we hope!

V: To be honest, I’m not sure what I will do with the time I regain in my schedule…  maybe catch a few more Giants games while sporting my wonderful new jacket!  :)

S: And while Vic is enjoying those Giants games, I will be working on a catalogue! Also, if you find yourself in the area next month, please come and see us at the Sacramento Antiquarian Book Fair on Saturday March 28th!

Thanks, you two! Samm is right… onto the next!

Some more photos from this year’s fair:

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                                        President out. (Cue mic drop.)

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The Future of Antiquarian Book Fairs

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.

Photo courtesy of Fine Books and Collections magazine.

Photo courtesy of Fine Books and Collections magazine.

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?

Vic Sac IOBAWhen 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.

Vic at a recent Seattle Antiquarian Book Fair.

Vic at a recent Seattle Antiquarian Book Fair.

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.

A shot from the New York ABAA fair, photo courtesy of LitHub.

A shot from the New York ABAA fair, photo courtesy of LitHub.

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. 

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There and Back Again – The Seattle Antiquarian Book Fair Edition

This past weekend saw the Tavistock Team exhibiting for the first time in a couple years at the Seattle Antiquarian Book Fair. A great experience for them, resident factotum Samm Fricke to tell us all about it. We highly recommend this fair to any and all in the book trade – whether you are a bookseller, a collector, a librarian or a bibliophile! You won’t be disappointed. Have a look at her answers below!
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Q: How much experience do you both, Vic and Samm, have with the Seattle Book Fair? 

Samm: For me, the Seattle Antiquarian Book Fair was a whole new experience – I have never attended nor worked that fair ever before. Vic, however, has done it many times, despite the fact that Tavistock Books has not exhibited there for a couple years. We are glad to be back!

Booth mates! This year we shared our Seattle booth with Laurelle Swan, of Swan's Fine Books in Walnut Creek, CA.

Booth mates! This year we shared our Seattle booth with Laurelle Swan, of Swan’s Fine Books in Walnut Creek, CA.

Q: Because we must ask, as usual – how was load in, load out? Everything flow smoothly or were there some hiccups that needed to be addressed in either situation? 

Samm: Load in and out was GREAT! So easy. Brad Johnson (of Johnson Rare Books & Archives) drove a caravan from Los Angeles and gathers booksellers’ books as he travels up the west coast. In short… we did not have to lug anything! We were lucky – it was probably the easiest load in and load out we have ever had! Thank you, Brad!

 

 

 

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Q: We noticed that before you got to Seattle you sent out a list of the items you decided to bring. How was the feedback from that list? Does it generate interest in the items already listed or are collectors and sellers using the list to see a general overview of our stock and then requesting you bring other items?  

Samm: We did get some interest in the list before we left, and I do think it brought other booksellers over to our booth during set up to take a peek. However, the list was just text – no pictures – (unlike the bi-weekly short lists we send out!). In any case, I think people (booksellers and collectors) are always happy to have the first peek!

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Q: How were sales, down up or concurrent with previous years at the Seattle fair? 

Samm: As Vic likes to (politely) say, sales were “soft.”  But at fairs you usually do well at either buying or selling – not always both at the same time. Luckily, we were able to buy some really neat items, so keep an eye on our inventory in the near future!

Q: What were the best moments of the fair? Dinners, talks, social events… what was the salvation this time around?! Book fairs, while wonderful experiences for booksellers to hang out with like-minded souls, can be extremely draining. Being constantly on, constantly available, and not to mention working hard – what made it all worthwhile for you both this time around?

Samm: For me, it is always the dinners after the show. Getting to commiserate about the day, laugh about funny moments, eat great food (concession stands just don’t cut it, I’m sorry to say) and have a well-blended cocktail – a much needed boon after a long day of continuous meet and greets!  Seattle was no exception – we had some really great meals with some amazing people! We are looking forward to the next fairs where we can all meet again!

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A New Adventure at the Chicago Antiquarian Book Fair

Recently, Team Tavistock flew out to Chicago to exhibit at the Chicago Antiquarian Book Fair. A first time exhibiting at this fair for Tavistock, we got the low-down on their experiences below! 

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So Vic, is this your first time exhibiting at the Chicago fair? And if so, what made you decide to try it out?

VZ: Indeed, this was my first time exhibiting in Chicago, and I did so because it was held at the prestigious Newberry Library.  A lovely venue.

Samm, have you spent any time in Chicago before this fair?

SF: Yes, I have spent quite a bit of time in Chicago before this trip. However, I was never in the area we were in – Lincoln Park is, I believe, the neighborhood that the Newberry is in. The park in front of the Newberry is absolutely gorgeous, and the Newberry Library was spectacular! Not to mention that we discovered a lovely breakfast diner called Tempo, and it was a delight. Every time I visit Chicago I seem to find great and beautiful places.

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Vic, how did you decide what was best to take with you, exhibit-wise?

VZ: We had contracted for two trophy cases, no tables. And to save on shipping costs, decided to carry everything with us on the airplane. So selections tended to have two aspects: a connection to Chicago, and being more of a pamphlet or otherwise ’smallish’ item. What inventory we brought with us was supplemented by the 85 Dickens titles I acquired at the 1 May Hindman auction. And no, we didn’t put out all 85! Just a half dozen or so.

Samm, what was load-in and set up like? How did it compare to the previous fairs you have worked on?  

SF: Overall, load-in was easy.  It is always a bit confusing when first arriving at a book fair – where to go and what doors lead to what rooms. But it is definitely the way when you have never even been to the venue before! Other fairs I have attended have had very detailed load-in and load-out policies and rules, but that did not seem to be the case at the Newberry. It is a HUGE venue and easy to get turned around if you are unfamiliar with it. 

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Vic, what was the best part of the fair, as one who has so much experience both exhibiting and shopping fairs around the country?

VZ: In this case, for me, the best part of the fair was the Friday night exhibitor dinner arranged by the fair promoter, Sammy Berk. Was a quite enjoyable evening, with good food, good drink, & good company.

Samm, what was your favorite thing about this fair?  

SF: To be honest, I think its one of my favorite things about every fair I have exhibite at so far. Meeting people I have only talked to on the phone or emailed with! It is always nice to put a face to voice or name. People’s responses to me are typically along the lines of “its nice to meet you in person, I have been seeing you on Instagram and the blog.” Haha!

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And last but not least… Vic, do you think you’ll be exhibiting at the Chicago Antiquarian Book Fair in the future? 

VZ: TBD! I say this, for despite the fantastic venue, sales were, shall we say, less than robust, and at the end of the day, one must have sales to remain a bookseller.

And there you have it, ladies and gents!

Looking forward to the next book fair report this fall, coming to you from Tavistock Books. 

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A Sacramento Update in Honor of Samm’s One Year Anniversary!

This past weekend’s Sacramento Antiquarian Book Fair marks Samm Fricke’s one year anniversary with Tavistock Books. Some of you loyal blog followers might remember that Samm joined us in panic mode just two days before the fair last March, and we were just as lucky to have her then as we were to have her at this – her third Sacramento Book Fair! We sat down with her to pick her brain on her feelings now versus one year ago, so enjoy this little Q&A on Samm’s experiences at this fair!

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Q: So Samm! This Sacramento Book Fair this past weekend marks your one year anniversary with Tavistock Books. How does it feel? 

SF: I must say it feels pretty good! All in all I think I am getting a handle on things. I am feeling more and more comfortable in my book skin each day, and also learning something new each day!

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Q: What was your favorite thing about this Sacramento Book Fair, and how is it different from your favorite aspects one year ago?  

SF: Hmm, my favorite thing? Haha! Probably the simple fact that is was the Sacramento Book Fair!  The last two fairs we exhibited at (Pasadena and the Oakland ABAA fair) were huge and stressful, so it was quite nice to come back to a less chaotic fair and see some familiar faces.  Some of those faces I of course saw in Oakland and Pasadena, but without us all being so hyped up it was nice being able to relax with my colleagues and fellow bibliophiles! That being said, I also loved that I could actually say I had two Sac fairs under my belt!

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Q: What do you think your most important lesson was this year and how did you go about learning it? Did Vic teach you? Did you make a mistake? (No joke, my first week I dropped a book that Vic had just spent hundreds of dollars having the binding redone on. Both boards snapped off and I had a mini heart-attack. Vic was at a Giants game. C’est la vie.) 

SF: (First of all, haha Margueritte! That is my worst fear!) There have been so many lessons, and still so many lessons I have to learn!  Vic teaches me everyday – “let me show you” and “have I mentioned this bibliography?” – are some of most common phrases I hear each day! I have, of course, made mistakes here and there, its a learning curve! Thankfully none of my mistakes have lead to him going bankrupt or losing items in his collection… yet! Kidding! Within my first week, I was taking photos and bumped the books behind me. One fell. My heart skipped about 3 beats while I saw Vic look over.  Thankfully, however, it was an inexpensive book and nothing was damaged (unlike you, Margueritte!). But I won’t lie – I thought I was going to die.

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Q: What are you most excited about moving forward in the book trade? 

SF: Like I mentioned a year ago, I just want to continue learning new aspects of the book trade. There is always something new, even with the old! And yes, you can quote me on that one.

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We are so happy to have you on board, Samm!

Here’s to the next Sacramento Antiquarian Book Fair!

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