So we’ve covered what became of us at Book Fair 2019, at least until stories occur to us or other people send in their own comments. What’s new for the big 2020 Book Binge?
Well, not all that much, so far. One of the great features of the Newberry’s Book Fair is that we keep things loose, to allow for surprises. Organize too thoroughly in advance for what happened LAST year, and you are unprepared for, say, the Lincoln Park Zoo coming to call, or a few (dozen) deliveries from the Swedish-American Museum. Both of these things happened in our past, so there’s no sense getting ready for them to happen again.
A lot of what we HAVE planned is in the nuts and bolts category: mechanical things that didn’t work quite as well, and which have some obvious possible repairs. (The lighting in Rooms 3 and 4, for example, can be amped up, so to speak, if we make the necessary moves in advance of setting up our tables.) These are not especially things that would interest you, though they will make life easier when you come to shop at the end of next July.
What I thought I might cover are a few of the suggestions people made in passing to make for a greater, better Book Fair which I have kind of decided we are NOT going to utilize. I am not saying anything unkind about the people who made these suggestions. I will be saying unkind things about the suggestions themselves. There’s a difference.
SORT THINGS A LOT MORE: Yes, I KNOW there were some books in Ukrainian mixed in among the Russian books in Foreign Language, and a volunteer apologized for putting a book in Catalan in with the Spanish. Yes, Military History had World War I books mixed together with the Korean War books and books about Napoleon’s campaigns. Be reasonable. We DO try to help you find things to buy, but ass I always say, “The Library’s upstairs. This is a Book Fair.” First of all, our time is limited, and we cannot do all that sorting during the three days we spend putting books on tables. Second, if we put the book you’re looking for right where you can find it right away, you won’t go hunting for it and thus find three or four more books you didn’t know you needed. Besides, as mentioned before, some books are hard to sort. Does “Low-Fat Jewish Cooking” go with the Health Cookbooks or the Jewish Cookbooks? Unless someone gave us two copies, we’re going to wind up putting something where some of you won’t be looking.
MAKE ALL THE BOOKS FIFTY CENTS: Customers and volunteers alike are sorrowful when their favorite book is still there at the end of the Book Fair. The automatic accusation is, “You priced it too high! If you charged reasonable prices, these books would sell!” Well, um, where do we start here? How do you know we didn’t sell thirty-seven copies of the book at our price, and the one you found was the last copy? (Probably stuck in a back corner where the lighting was bad.) If the book is so good, too, maybe everybody already HAS a copy. And, finally, did you know we’re trying, among other things, to make a lot of money? Having no leftovers would be NICE, but it’s not at the top of our list of goals. To make money, we have to price books that will keep customers “sullen, but not rebellious”.
STOP SELLING ALL THIS TRASH: There has always been a minority opinion that if we stop selling so much, we’ll make more money. A few years back, someone at the Newberry itself suggested we just stop selling anything that cost less than five dollars. We’d have less stuff to sell, true, but people would buy it and we’d make more money. I told them at the time that at that pricing level, we would no longer have a Literature section, a Mystery section, a Children’s section, a Science Fiction section, a Poetry section, a Drama section…. “Maybe you just need to sell everything at five dollars” was the reply. Every year since then, there’s been a cry from the shadows that we’d make more money if we just stopped selling paperbacks. Or if we stopped selling popular fiction more than five years old. Or if we stopped selling postcards. Or if we stopped….
All we have to do next year, then, is raise prices, lower prices, sell fewer books, and sort them more. We’re lucky to get all this free advice. It’s worth every penny.