Follett Corp. has begun rolling out its new book fair business, Follett Book Fairs, which it sees as a major growth opportunity.

Tony Hopkins, senior v-p of business development for Follett who is overseeing the launch of the book fairs, said the 2017–2018 school year is “a pilot year.” In this period, fairs aimed at grades K–8 will be unveiled. In subsequent years, Hopkins said, the fairs will be rolled out to early education and middle school grades. Further into the future, Follett may also expand the program to include high schools.

Hopkins said the book fair initiative has been in the planning stages for several years and that Follett opted to launch the business this year “because we have assembled a team to make it happen.” Hopkins declined to say who was heading the day-to-day operations of the fairs, referring only to a press release that said the book fair leadership has “more than 60 years of combined experience in the book fair business.”

The launch of Follett Book Fairs is a direct challenge to Scholastic, which has long dominated the business and does 120,000 fairs in the U.S. School book fairs generated $508 million for the company in the fiscal year ended this May.

Hopkins said he believes publishers and schools are looking for alternatives in the book fair market. Follett has relationships with about 6,000 publishers, Hopkins said, but does not have its own publishing program. “We won’t promote our titles over other publishers,” Hopkins said, an allusion to Scholastic, which sells books from its own imprints through its fairs and book clubs.

Hopkins said Follett Book Fairs will also allow schools to take part in the book selection process which will let them customize the fairs for the particular needs of their schools.

Commenting on the new rival, Alan Boyko, president of Scholastic Book Fair noted: “Scholastic Book Fairs has a long history of offering quality books from all publishers, curated by educators and children’s literature experts, but equally important is that we also have a vast distribution network with 59 warehouses across the US, and truck drivers and local representatives who are in schools every day. That is what makes us so effective in reaching schools and families in every state. We’re confident that the great love for Scholastic Book Fairs, which is shared on social media channels every single day, indicates that Scholastic is the go-to-choice for school-based fairs.”

Ultimately, Hopkins believes Follett's entry into the school book fair market will grow the fair segment, rather than just seizing market share from Scholastic. “Follett Book Fairs will give schools more choices,” he said. “Schools could host one Scholastic fair and a Follett fair.”

The launch of Follett Book Fairs is the second major new business started by Follett this week. Yesterday, it announced that its Baker & Taylor division had created Baker & Taylor Publisher Services and hired distribution veteran Mark Suchomel to help direct the unit.