Attendance at last week's Great American Bargain Book Show was down about 8%, something founder Larry May attributed to a weak retail market. Still, the number of exhibitors stayed just about the same at the show, which was held at the Hynes Convention Center in downtown Boston. For Heidi Wells, CEO of TIA in Denver, coming to a slightly smaller GABBS was still worth it. "It'll end up being a good show for us," she said. "Everybody who comes buys."
In just three years, GABBS Boston has become one of the four major bargain shows in the U.S., after CIROBE, BEA, and GABBS Atlanta (formerly the Spring Book Show). The August timing for the Boston show has helped it gain traction. Unlike CIROBE, it gives buyers plenty of time to stock up for the holidays. In fact, said May, a number of buyers asked exhibitors to hold their orders for October shipment.
But this year's show wasn't limited to books or even bargain titles. Toymaker Melissa & Doug of Westport, Conn., took a booth to promote its full-priced products. "We have a great business with bookstores," said sales representative Chris Cofuni. "We do this show, CIROBE, the Spring Show, and ASD [the merchandise retail show]. The buyers tend to come [to bargain shows]."
Professional Book Fairs, in Brampton, Ontario, displayed Day Runners and products often seen on infomercials, like Cuddle Up blankets and Drain Buster plungers, alongside children's books. "I'm doing the same thing as the stores," said president David Hoff. "If somebody comes up to me with an interesting product at the right price, I'm in. The book fair business is half nonbook. It's all add-on sales." Like other exhibitors, he noted that although he can send information over the Internet, it's not the same for buyers as being able to physically touch the product.
Book buyers came from as far away as Lagos, Nigeria, to seek out religious books, and Kabul, Afghanistan, looking for books on Islam and other topics of interest to the military. Closer to home, Eric Wilska, owner of the Book Loft in Great Barrington, Mass., said, "I found a lot of good stuff. Bargain is an increasing part of our business. It definitely raises the profit margin." Pilar Newman, a children's book buyer with educational wholesaler Multicultural Book World, sister company to Frugal Books, a full-service bookstore in Roxbury, Mass., said, "Obviously with the budget cuts, I'm looking for great prices."
Doug Robinson, general manager of Eagle Eye Book Shop in Decatur, Ga., said that bargain represents roughly 20% of his store's dollars. "I see a few vendors here who haven't come to SIBA or the Spring Book Show," said Robinson. "We honestly feel you can't just sit there and have nothing but new or used books. You've got to have something different from Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million." Added Jon Platt, co-owner of Nonesuch Books & Cards, in South Portland and Biddeford, Maine, "Remainders are one of our best defenses against Amazon, because of the margins."