I have asked leaders of the dealer community, ILAB, ABAA and ABA for their perspectives on the year just past and the year just beginning, and as well have asked Marvin Getman for his views on the Electronic Book Fair phenomena that helping dealers worldwide through Covid-19. Participants are in alphabetical order: Roger Treglown & Pom Harrington on behalf of the ABA, Susan Benne of the ABAA, and Sally Burdon of ILAB. After which Marvin Getman adds his perspective. They are committed and will be careful.
Roger Treglown & Pom Harrington, ABA President and Vice President
The second hand and antiquarian books trade is renowned for its enduring resilience and optimism ever since Herr Gutenberg printed a Bible in Mainz, 1455 ! In my memory the financial crash of some twelve years ago created enormous problems for our trade - with perseverance most of us survived. The current epidemic demands a ' Churchillian ' resourceful and positive approach from us all, hence the increase of the virtual book fair platforms in order to satisfy the insatiable demands of our existing and new clients. Notwithstanding the foregoing we in the ABA are planning our international flag ship fair - Firsts London taking place in May 2021, at the Saatchi Gallery, Chelsea. Similarly our fairs at Edinburgh, in March and Chelsea in November next year are at the planning stages. However, if propitious conditions are not in our favour we will continue to offer bibliophiles and collectors a number of our, very well received, virtual book fairs throughout the year. As ever the ABA has adopted a pro-active forward thinking approach to 2021.
Susan Benne, Executive Director ABAA
The ABAA was founded more than 70 years ago. Since then, as citizens, spectators, and advocates, we have long sought to be at the forefront of the trade.
What was once an association of book and manuscript sellers has evolved to encompass maps, prints, ephemera, zines, and other facets of material culture. In the last decade, we launched initiatives that broaden the inclusion and participation of women, BIPOC, and non-binary persons in the trade. Further, it is of utmost importance that diverse voices are represented in the formation and holdings of private and institutional collections.
As we move beyond a year that has caused physical, emotional, and financial hardship for many, we continue to listen, support, and bring forth programs to connect collectors and sellers. We look forward to a better new year and continue to offer virtual book fairs until we can safely gather for in-person events.
Sally Burdon, ILAB President
Although the COVID-19 pandemic has caused heartbreak for many and enormous disruption for even more, the fears that many held for the antiquarian book trade in March and April fortunately did not eventuate. Most antiquarian booksellers whether or not they have open shops have a solid mail order service integrated into their business. This has allowed the majority to manage to ride the storm, or in many cases do very good business, as collectors and readers return to their shelves and seek to fill in gaps or extend their collections. The re-emergence of virtual book fairs, last seen in the early 2000s, has been another bright spot for the book trade. These book fairs are much better supported than they were 20 odd years ago and have helped open the book fair world to those who have not attended a fair, or at least not one of the major fairs, before. The Virtual Book fairs are for book collectors and libraries a great equaliser offering equality of access to everyone with an Internet connection where ever you are on the globe. Many booksellers also used this year to try and catalogue some of the famous backlog that most booksellers have. Every bookseller buys more than they can process and frequently never quite get around to cataloguing some, often, very good stock. This year more of that stock came out and speaking from personal experience sold very well. Overall the trade has faired, surprisingly given the year, very well in 2020.
What are we to expect? What’s going to be the new normal?
Of course none of us know the answers to these questions - would that we did! The desire to return to physical shops and book fairs is great among both booksellers and their customers. Studies show that the interaction gained from talking in person is more deeper, pleasurable and interesting than the same interaction via video conferencing, very good though this is. Physical fairs will return I have no doubt and may do better than before as book collectors and readers seize opportunities to talk and look at books in person again. It seems likely as well that the virtual book fairs will continue either as an adjunct or at different times over the year. Into the future booksellers will continue to do what they do so well, putting out interesting catalogues and helping collectors build their collections.
Marvin Getman, Electronic Book Fair Visionary
Virtual Outlook 2021
My last live book fair was on March 6-7. It was the satellite fair to the ABAA Armory show. That seems like an eternity ago. The last eight months has been a whirlwind of activity. How I came about developing a virtual platform has been widely reported so no need to repeat it here. Now to look forward to 2021. Here’s what I see:
Thankfully, vaccines are on the way and by this time next year, maybe sooner, I predict that some live fairs will return. I see that the Boston ABAA is being advertised for November and the New York ABAA Fair is being advertised for September. I do not plan, at this time, to bring back my live fairs. I know that might be a disappointment to some who enjoy attending my satellite fairs during the ABAA fairs but the fact is that those fairs take a lot out of this old guy for their financial return. I will devote my time and attention to continuing to improve my virtual platform and to develop themes that will bring booksellers and their customers together. I get emails from institutions, librarians, collectors and dealers thanking me for developing a platform that is so easy to use and easy to navigate. I take pride that, during this unprecedented year, $2 million of commerce passed through my virtual fairs. There is no question in my mind that virtual fairs are here to stay. It gives me pleasure that other fair producers, Rare Books LA, and recently The SLAM French Book Fair were able to keep their fairs alive by using my platform. We hosted a special fundraiser for CABS which was highly successful. In January, the Rocky Mountain Booksellers Association will hold their annual fair on my platform. Expect to see more social interaction on the virtual fairs. I don’t expect to be able to duplicate the happy hour that so many people seem to miss from the live fairs. I welcome ideas from booksellers as to what would make the platform more useful. I am investigating a way for money to pass between the buyer and seller quickly. I realize that is something people would like to see.