Notes from the Fair : Codex & The California Antiquarian Book Fair February 17, 2009 – Tags: ABAA, AbeBooks, book arts, Book Fairs, The Business of Books
It was a big book week in San Francisco with both the book arts and antiquarian segments of the book trade hosting their largest events of the year. I was interested to see how these events would fair in the current economic climate of doom and gloom.
Well, I got good news. Books are still alive!
The Codex Foundation kicked things off with The Second Biennial Codex International Book Fair and Symposium. The book fair took place on the Berkeley campus of the University of California and the symposium was held at the Berkeley Art Museum. Over 125 fine presses and book artists from around the world showed up to exhibit their wares. As the Codex fair website states the “fair is rapidly becoming the “world’s fair” of the book as art and artifact.”
When I visited on Wednesday afternoon the room was filled with an excitement and buzz that was quite refreshing. I got the sense that Codex is in a way a coming out party for the fine press and book arts community. Peter Koch, the fine press printer and founder of the Codex Foundation, told me he sees himself as the “Bill Graham of book arts” and he deserves much credit for his work here.
The time is also ripe for such an event. As the larger book environment continues to go through a prolonged upheaval, with technology redefining how books are read and how their content is delivered, the handmade book is enjoying a bit of a revival. It is one of the few solid growth areas in the book world. It is also an area that has not yet fully benefited from the e-commerce technologies that have redefined the other segments of the book universe.
Then it was off to San Francisco to exhibit at The 42nd California International Antiquarian Book Fair. Though I did not feel the same sense of excitement and buzz that I did at Codex I was, in the end, happy about the way it unfolded.
Going into the fair one could be cautiously optimistic at best. The weather was terrible, the economy is in the tank and the trade is still spinning from the technology changes of the last 15 years.
The fair was well attended, which in itself is a sign of health, and people were buying books. Disaster was averted.
What seemed to me to be the biggest change, and one that has been on the horizon since the advent of online bookselling, was the decrease in the wholesale or dealer to dealer sales. Traditionally, the health of a book fair is heavily impacted by the intra-trade sales. Booksellers buy books, and they still do, but not in the same fashion as in days gone by. Technology has altered this component and the economy has exacerbated it. For many booksellers retail sales have become as important as wholesale sales, in fact, in many cases, they have overtaken them. This is a significant shift in the book fair model and will undoubtedly, if the trend continues, affect the role of the book fair in the booksellers arsenal.
Other notes from the fair:
All three major online marketplaces where present. The CEO’s of Alibris and Biblio where on hand as were numerous team members from each marketplace. AbeBooks had their account and marketing managers present.
It was also announced that the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America (ABAA) will undertake a much-needed revamping of their website with the folks at Bibliopolis taking the lead and Biblio providing the back-end support. I will have more on this in a later post.
Two of the most prominent fallacies often associated with our trade is that there are no young book collectors and there are no young booksellers. There was an informal gathering of booksellers under 50 held on Saturday night that attracted about a dozen of us. Though strictly a social affair one could see the opportunity and benefits that these “emerging leaders” can bring to the bigger bookselling table. Full disclosure – I was the elder statesman at this affair 🙂