Following a survey of exhibitors at their 2008 Fall Trade Show, the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association executive director Thom Chambliss sent out the following letter today.
Dear PNBA Reps and Show Exhibitors,
THANKS to all of you who participated in our recent survey about the fall show. We were pleasantly surprised at the percentage who did participate and the consistency of the responses. The numbers for each query will be very helpful in determining where our future shows will be, when the shows would best be held, and how fancy we don’t need to get to make them work. Below my signature are the complete results, with each question first, in black, followed by the responses in red and some “key” comments, to help explain the “votes.” In each case, I chose to quote a response that was “typical” of the most often expressed response.
Here are the primary decisions that I have made, based on the results of the survey:
1) We will continue to offer a choice between exhibiting one or two days at the show, but the price will be the same for all vendors. To be honest, our original decision to offer a lower price for those who exhibited for just one day was flawed, because PNBA’s cost for the space and the tables and decoration (pipe and drape, signage, etc.) is the same, whether you use it for one day or two. For many booksellers and most of our independent reps, the second day is as important as the first. We will do a better job from now on promoting to the booksellers exactly which exhibitors will be there for only one day and which will be there both days, so that they can better plan their meetings.
2) We will NOT ever have our shows on a Jewish holiday. We need to make sure that everyone feels equally invited to our shows. We cannot afford to lose any of our support.
3) We will avoid overlapping dates with Mountains & Plains and Northern California as much as possible. I am in regular communication with the executive directors of both of those associations, and we have agreed to be more careful about our planning, so that overlap can be avoided.
4) We will continue to use the best “bargain” space that we can find, while trying to find something within our size and price range closer to Seattle. The pickings in the Seattle area for our space and meeting room needs and price range are slim. We are also trying to move the show on a more regular basis to October dates, so that more finished books will be available, and so that the show will be held when more authors are already planning to tour and might be able to add our show to their schedule.
5) We will initiate a strong program to promote ORDERS at the shows, even small orders, with an emphasis on quantity of orders, not quantity of units in each order. The industry has changed enormously in the last ten years, and most booksellers are programmed to submit orders electronically on a “just-in-time” inventory control basis. This model is not conducive to placing orders at tradeshows. Therefore, starting in the spring we will solicit from YOU donations of potential prizes for giveaways at the show. (For instance, a collection of hardcover Harry Potter books; a collection of Penguin Classics; a “big-name” author appearance; a scholarship to BEA; a scholarship to Winter Institute 6 in 2011; etc, etc.) PNBA will also donate a variety of prizes (scholarships to next year’s fall show, a collection of signed PNBA Book Award titles, etc.) and we will promote these prizes to our members for several months before the show. At the show booksellers who place an order with a rep will receive an entry in the drawing for the prizes, one entry for each order to a separate company. Even an order for the minimum number of books will be eligible for a prize drawing entry. Then on the second day of exhibits, PNBA will offer a free lunch to all attending booksellers and we will have the drawing for prizes. We are considering limiting the winners to those in attendance on the second day, but we would appreciate hearing your thoughts on that idea. Perhaps SOME of the prizes could be only for those in attendance. Let us know what you think. We want to do what we can to promote orders at the show, for those publishers and reps who feel that receiving orders is an important part of the event.
6) We will provide an opportunity on the second day of the exhibits for more local and small press authors to discuss their new books, perhaps in a “Pick of the Lists” format, charging as low a fee as possible, using some of the space vacated by publishers who exhibited only on the first day.
Again, thanks to all of you who participated and took the time to write about your experiences at the shows and to share your ideas about what might improve the shows for you, for the authors, and for the booksellers. PNBA promises to do our best to improve the shows and to provide you with the best opportunity we can to connect with our retail and library members and to make the shows an excellent venue for your continued use.
Thom Chambliss, Executive Director
Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association
SURVEY FOR PNBA SHOW EXHIBITORS, RESPONSES RECEIVED BY FRIDAY, OCTOBER 30, 2009
[About 75 surveys sent; final tally with 45 completed surveys received]
1) Would you prefer that we continue to offer the option of exhibiting for two days, rather than just one?
Comments: Several who said “No” added that it really didn’t matter to them. One made a few good points: “From a booksellers perspective, two days are necessary to see every (or most) reps. From my perspective, the biggest order I wrote at the show came at the 11th hour of the second day. I would not have seen this new store if the show were only one day.”
2) Would it be a problem if we had a show that fell on one of the Jewish holidays?
Comments: One rep spoke for many when he said “…That would be a big problem; I am not Jewish, but it has come up in the past and you would offend and lose customers.”
3) Would it be a problem if we had a show on the same dates as the Mountains & Plains Booksellers Association’s show?
Comments: “You also have publishers deciding where to send authors and VP’s and how to allocate monies, which hurts both events. If publishers have to choose, then one of the shows will have fewer authors, or lesser known authors, which would effect the draw. It would also hurt the publisher and the authors, who do tour at that time of the year, fewer attendees, bad press reviews in ShelfAwareness and PW daily. it will hurt everyone if you have same date shows, so “don’t do it.” Think globally. In a time when booksellers and their associations are working double time to keep pace look and ahead, don’t complicate things by undermining our like and kind bookselling trade associations, which in turn hurts the booksellers and the bookselling community as a whole.”
4) Would it be a problem if we had a show on the same dates as the Northern California Booksellers Association’s show?
5) Would you be willing to pay higher exhibit fees to accommodate moving the show to a more up-to-date (read “expensive”) facility?
Comments: Most respondents said don’t do it unless it will draw more booksellers, which a more expensive hotel probably won’t. Several also added “Yes, we would pay more, if it meant getting a facility closer to Seattle.”
6) Is it Important, Helpful, or Not an Issue for you to take orders at your exhibit?
Not an issue: 18
Comments: “Taking orders is very important for me. It is how I justify all the work I put into the shows. You and I have discussed this in the past and I know you have done your best to make booksellers understand the importance of doing orders, but it is frustrating to have independent store owners walk by without even thinking about ordering…If you take out the numbers from Powell’s, Elliott Bay and Third Place the show could not be justified. Do the smaller, out-of-the-way shops like Paulina Springs, the Bookery, Wind River Books and many others avoid all direct buying and get everything from Partners and Ingram? If so, the show will be hard to maintain.”
“Orders are of course Important for a commission rep – it’s our sole source of revenue. Just as important, however, in the Trade Show context, is the kind of face to face interaction which may or may not result in orders, or might initiate a long-term business relationship. The whole point of the show is really to present my client publishers in as good a light as possible and to make it as easy as possible for booksellers to get the books they want. So I measure the success of a show by three criteria: 1) the number of orders (size is less important); 2) the number of catalogs distributed; and 3) the number of contacts made with stores who might become regular customers – even if they only order through wholesalers.”
Other, general comments and suggestions:
The Northwest independent publishers would love to support this show: but they often feel that the PNBA doesn’t want them there. If there is any way to open up signing spots for smaller houses and less well-known authors (maybe a shorter time, less product needed to give away) they would be willing to pay. Right now, the whole process of approval leaves many publishers telling me (rightly or wrongly) that the process seems to favor the NY publishers and the bestsellers. We know that everyone would love to meet Dan Brown or whoever is Random House’s latest star, but can there be some spots for the NW houses too?
I would suggest having the show later in the season. More finished books to show booksellers makes a big difference. Also, more touring authors at that time to draw from for the PNBA signings/dinners.