Last month's CIROBE (Chicago International Remainder and Overstock Book Exposition)—the 14th—was held, as usual, in the Chicago Hilton and Towers. The steady scratch of pen on paper was a clear testament to what this show has always been: all order-writing, all the time. As one of the newer exhibitors put it, "CIROBE 2004 was everything a book wholesaler could ask for." Stina Forsell celebrated the one-year anniversary of her company, Maximus Books, at the show, accompanied by her ever-content chairman, Maximus the pug. Forsell continued, "We encountered what we've come to find a constant at this event: focused and hardworking buyers methodically working the floor and buying books."
This year brought a larger than usual number of first-time exhibitors, all of whom gave CIROBE glowing notices. In the words of Gonzalo Ferrayra at Ten Speed Press, "A trade publisher couldn't ask for more at this show. We moved books, opened new accounts and received a more accurate sense of the industry and its trends. Being aware of this segment of the business allows you to assess future acquisitions more honestly and do a much better job as a frontlist publisher. Frankly, to publish books into this economy without an honest appraisal of this particular market is to publish in a vacuum."
Another new exhibitor, Chelsea Green, experienced success right out of the gate. According to the publisher's representative, Marshall Glickman, "One distributor completely bought out eight titles, so within minutes I had sold all I wanted to." Glickman found CIROBE, he said, "especially valuable for the intangibles that can't always be measured in dollars."
Also in the "business as usual" category were the numerous panegyrics for CIROBE cofounders Marshall Smith and Brad Jonas. In the words of CIROBE veteran Paul Snow of Fairmount Books, "They deliver the buyers. A lot of shows say they're going to deliver and they don't." According to Dean Winegardner of American Book Company, "This seems to be the smoothest of all the CIROBEs." Lynn Bond at Book Club of America summed up the rave reviews: "Brad and Marshall continue to deliver to the bargain book community a tremendous opportunity. This has been a bustling show from the minute we all arrived." And as Smith observed, "I've seen a lot of really terrific titles at this show and, as usual, the orders here tend to be only as good as the books that the exhibitors bring."
Heather Sussman, buyer for the 16-store Chapter 11 chain in Georgia, said that she saw much more title variety this year; she also reported having more appointments than in prior years. "I do most of my buying here," she told PW, "certainly more than at any of the other shows."
Definitely not as usual was the presence of four major newcomers: Abebooks and Alibris exhibited at CIROBE for the first time, and representatives from Amazon and eBay were walking the floor. "They were talking to show management about how they might interrelate their customers with our event and our customers with their services," Jonas said.
Though opinions differed as to this year's traffic—heavier, said some, while others found the crowd a bit lighter—there was unanimity on the orders written: bigger. (In fact, the figures show something of a tradeoff: the number of attendees was marginally lower this year, while the exhibitor count was higher.) Winegardner of American Book Company, for example, reported that his orders were up 8% over last year, and Shinu Gupta at A1 Overstock told PW that the company did "twice as much business as last year." According to Dennis Balog of the Time Warner Book Group, "This was our best CIROBE ever for white-sale orders."
Book Sales sales manager Joseph Fortin said, "We've experienced another robust opener, which translated into more significant order production than last year." Robert Wilkie at Texas Bookman reported, "Regardless how the year has gone, CIROBE is always a pick-me-up—it's always there, it's always solid, and it really gives me a sense of renewed optimism."
"Whether the economy is good or bad, the business here remains solid, from the little player to the big player," said Don Sturtz of Fujii Associates. As Deborah Hastings of Federal Street Press noted, "A lot of the big retailers take this show very seriously."
Peggy Vickers, remainder buyer for Stacey's in San Francisco, typified the bookstore attendees, finding "particularly valuable titles" and noting that "the white sales are especially exciting." Reinforcing the often-heard comments about making new contacts at CIROBE, Vickers said, "I wrote orders with three companies I was never in touch with before."
Said Jay Gesin of Phaidon Books, "[CIROBE] gives independent bookstores a real chance to provide extra value to their customers—they keep seeing books for less and it helps build a store's reputation for value." One Chicago independent who subscribes to that theory is Ed Devereaux, whose Unabridged Books is now in its 25th year. "We've increased our bargain book space little by little over the past several years. Customers definitely have responded, and we've seen the increase on our bottom line."
Increases were observed, too, in the diversity of products at the show. Several buyers noted the increased presence of nonbook remainders, which, in the words of Vickers at Stacey's, "have done very nicely of late—blank books, note cards, address books and various children's items." Virginia Taylor of Taylor Marketing told PW that the addition of calendars to her line has been "extremely successful"; she was excited, too, about a new line of bargain-priced DVDs. Daedalus co-owner Tamara Stock was doing "particularly well" with "a major new line of CDs [that is] creating lots of excitement."
Stock also was "incredibly impressed by the number of customers from outside the U.S. I'm seeing a lot of people who I know from Frankfurt." Balog at Time Warner also noted that many of the customers were from overseas—"in fact, we had more international customers than any prior year." And Jonas reported "excellent response from English vendors despite a weak dollar."
One of the intangible factors that has contributed to CIROBE's continued success is the almost palpable sense of community in this field. Risa Beckett of Parragon Books said, "It's really great that we have a chance here to reconnect with kindred spirits. There's a definite sense of camaraderie in the room; we come together around the books, which is what we're all about."