The 19th annual Los Angeles Times Festival of Books was embraced enthusiastically by a Southern California literary community grateful for the chance to meet authors, visit with publishers, listen to book-themed panels and author interviews, and enjoy the spirit of literary camaraderie over the weekend of April 12 and 13, 2014 on the campus of the University of Southern California.
“We’ve hit our stride here now,” said Mary Williams of Skylight Books, referring to the move to USC from the UCLA campus four years ago. “The past couple of years have been a great experience for everyone here. All the kinks related to the move have been ironed out, and USC is great to work with.” As the Festival drew to a close on Sunday, Williams said of sales and attendance at her booth, “We’re even with last year.”
Attendance did seem lighter than in 2013, though, as observed by Adrian Kalvinskas, owner of Distant Land travel bookstore. “There are definitely fewer people here,” he said. “That’s probably because the Times lost its biggest sponsor, Target, and lost a lot of advertising and publicity in the process.” Kalvinskas cut the store’s booth space in half this year after the Times increased the price of the Festival’s exhibit space. “We have two booths instead of four, so in that way sales per square foot are better than last year’s. I just wish the Times promoted the Festival as a place for consumers to buy books as much as it does the author appearances and panels.” A Times spokesperson said final attendance numbers were not available Monday, but that it expected turnout to be around the 150,000 figure the event has drawn in recent years.
Other exhibitors were more pleased. “It’s going great,” said Mysterious Galaxy’s co-owner Terry Gilman, “especially our YA books. We’re selling out of every title we brought. I wish we had another 200 books here, because I know we’d have sold them.” Gilman’s business partner Mary Elizabeth Hart noticed a change in the atmosphere at the Festival this year. “Instead of just rushing in to buy something, people are interested in engaging with us about books. They want recommendations more than in past years, and so we’re happy to be doing a lot of handselling.” Overall sales for the weekend at Mysterious Galaxy were at least as strong as last year’s, although Hart did notice a drop in attendance. “With Palm Sunday being today, and people getting ready for Passover tomorrow, the holidays seemed to keep people occupied elsewhere.”
For a community that’s thought of more as a media town than anything else, the Festival of Books gives Los Angeles a chance to realize its potential as a literary stronghold year after year. As usual, there were hundreds of authors in attendance, an abundance of book-related panels, and musical performances on three different stages. In the midst of these energetic activities, one newcomer seemed to make an especially good impression on booklovers.
The Southern California Independent Booksellers Association’s (SCIBA) booth promoted both indie booksellers and the upcoming California Bookstore Day on May 3. “I’m so glad we decided to do this,” said SCIBA executive director Andrea Vuleta. “The enthusiasm has been incredible. I’ve given away so many copies of our guide to indie bookstores that we’ll have to print more.” The booth was busy throughout the Festival. Samantha Schoech, who is producing California Bookstore Day and helped Vuleta in the booth, was delighted with all the attention at the SCIBA booth. “People are asking very detailed questions about the role of indie bookstores,” she said. “And they seem more interested in supporting the indies than in the great special items publishers made to be sold on California Bookstore Day.”