It was the best of times, it was the worst of times at the Cirobe (Chicago International Remainder and Overstock Book Exposition) October 24—26. While books are still the main draw, the buzz at the show wasn't about the product filling the Chicago Hilton's two basement ballrooms, but, rather, what was going on in the world outside.
All weekend, exhibitors and buyers alike worried about the sputtering economy. Many pointed out, though, that while times are bad for retail in general, the economic woes will probably help their own bottom line. “People have less money, so they'll spend less. But people consider books to be a good value,” declared Denny Magers of Magers & Quinn, who, while selling a huge assortment of titles at his booth, also roamed the aisles in search of fresh inventory for his Minneapolis discount bookstore. Marshall Smith, cofounder of Cirobe, said the economic crisis cuts both ways. “A lot of the stuff that's going on in the world is impacting us,” Smith said. “It's got people nervous, on edge. Inversely, it makes you think there's going to be better books [on the show floor].”
Most of the 112 exhibitors, primarily from the U.S., Canada and the U.K., commented that floor traffic seemed lighter than in past years. Overall attendance was off about 15%, with more no-shows and cancellations than usual. While many attributed the drop in attendance to a combination of the proliferation of Internet vendors, worries about the economy and higher travel costs, others pointed out that Cirobe was the third book show in a month, following closely on the heels of London's September CIANA remainders show and Frankfurt, held just a week earlier. “We can't keep buying stock,” explained Cajo Liesenberg of Buchvertrieb Liesenberg Ltd., based in Germany.
Traffic may have been lighter, but there was a steady hum of people wheeling and dealing. “It's the difference between business and busyness,” said Larry May of Freight Management Systems, who also owns two competing shows, the Spring Book Show and the Great American Bargain Book Show. “Regional shows and BEA have a lot of lookers and not a lot of buyers. It's the reverse here.”
“People are here to write orders,” first-time exhibitor Jim Harris of Fulcrum Publications said. “I sold 11,000 books Friday. It paid for the show—and then some. I'm happy.” Buyers interested in a broad range of titles generally were satisfied with the show's offerings. Paul Secor, a buyer at New York City's Strand bookstore, said, “I'm not scrounging to find stuff. I'm finding stuff I'm happy to get and that I think will do well at the store.”
But the feedback from buyers with more specialized interests was mixed. Reuben Mains of the Art & Soul bookstore, on the island of Grenada, was pleased to buy—at 75% off—two cartons of Morgan Freeman and Friends: Cooking for a Cause—a book he usually orders from wholesalers at 40% off. Others complained of a lack of variety in this year's offerings. One frustrated British bookstore buyer said she'd ordered one-third fewer titles this year than last.
“I'm seeing a lot of the same titles I've been seeing here for the past few years,” noted K. Murphy from Berkeley, Calif.'s Moe's Books. “About a third of the booths here have material for us,” Murphy said, describing Cirobe as more of a networking event than a buying show for her: “I have long-term relationships here.”
Now in its 18th year, Cirobe continues to evolve into a week-long remaindering extravaganza extending beyond the show's venue. As 24 exhibitors began displaying their wares to their major accounts at the Hilton three days before Cirobe officially opened, a splinter group of 23 exhibitors once again organized its own preshow for those same buyers at the nearby Congress Plaza Hotel.
“We can't do it in three days, and the buyers can't do it in three days,” explained Heidi Wells of Innovative Alliance remainders distribution company, citing the lower costs of renting space at the Congress Plaza as a major factor in setting up shop there before shifting to the Hilton for the weekend. “We wrote half of our orders there and half of our orders here,” she added. “We're happy, and the buyers are happy. Isn't that what it all comes down to?”