Subparagraph b under Romance, Papaerback

Something people like to send us, aside from handpainted pillows or wedding albums or copies of The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, are articles about book fairs. Some of these are of a “See, the book is NOT dead” nature, while others lean more to the “Gold In Your Attic” theme. But a few are aimed directly at book fair managers; their focus is “You could have done it this way if you had the brains.”

Recently, I have been edified by an article which claimed customers are more empowered if all paperbacks are fifty cents (Why? And why do you WANT your customers to feel empowered?), an article that explains children’s programming is the only way to attract customers (gives the parents something to do while the kids look at books), and the latest in an apparently annual series of articles about tedious book fairs which sell books by the pound, or the foot, or the bagful.

The most amazing one was a story which told how one book fair deals with scanners, the word they used to refer to those customers who use a handheld device to scan the UPC code of a book to see whether they have it and what the current market value is. Some customers loathe these people, and there are scanners who deserve it. Their aim is speed, see, and they push other customers out of the way while tossing the books they don’t want into untidy heaps.

“Some book fairs prohibit scanners,” the manager of the book fair declared, “But that’s impossible to enforce. So we have them sign a contract stipulating a code of conduct.”

By gummibears, why didn’t I think of that? Signing a contract always makes people behave the way you want. Any lawyer can attest to that. But as usual, I feel a great idea has not been developed far enough. Why stop at scanners? With proper thought, we could have dozens of contracts waiting at the door, to be handed out to customers before they get their map and their Potash bag.

People with backpacks could vow not to make any sudden turns in the aisle, knocking down other customers or, worse, a row of books. Parents pushing strollers could promise to make the kid get out and walk if they wind up with more books than they can carry. Customers for phonograph records could promise to put the jazz albums they don’t want back into the box marked JAZZ, and not into INSPIRATIONAL. (And, incidentally, they can promise not to dump the records out of the Inspirational box just because they want the box.)

Heck, we could just have everybody who walks in sign a pledge to buy at least twenty dollars worth of books (and at least one copy of The DaVinci Code.)

If this catches on, I see it expanding to cover donors. They could sign a contract promising that the handles will not pull off their bags, the banana boxes contain no actual bananas, and that any jewelry in a book safe was donated intentionally to provide whipped cream money for the Manager’s Hot Fudge Sundae Fund. (Anyone who feels whipped cream is too fattening would be allowed to apply the money to watermelon slices or grapes instead. Every contract needs its vine print.)

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