By Mitch Lipka
October 23 (Reuters) - Fall is book fair season at schools
across the United States, and despite changes in children's
reading habits, the fundraising needs of parent organizations
and the business of publishing, little has changed over the
Books get laid out on cafeteria tables or some other open
space, kids browse and then parents cough up cash.
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But there are little harbingers of change, as parent groups
try to find ways to raise more money and keep it flowing in. A
market that has been dominated for years by Scholastic Corp
has a growing field of challengers, each of which
offers varying incentives.
The national bookstore chain Barnes Noble Inc has
its own version of book fairs, which are held at its stores, not
in schools. Parent groups organize readings and coordinate
displays with the store, receiving a cut of anything purchased
at the event or online with a special discount code.
Barnes Noble held nearly 20,000 book fairs last year.
Groups receive a percentage of the sales, starting at 10 percent
in cash. Depending on how much is sold, a group can receive as
much as 25 percent of the sales in store gift cards.
Independent publishers and booksellers, such as children's
publisher Usborneare also in the game.
Fundraising companies are also vying for a piece of the pie.
For example, Blue Ribbon Book Fairs gives school groups a cash
payout ranging from 20 percent to 30 percent of sales -
depending on volume - or 35 percent to 45 percent in trade for
books. They'll also staff the event for a 10 percent deduction
from the cash take or 15 percent of the group's book credit.
There are also regional book fair companies, such as
Massachusetts-based Best Book Fairs, which will deliver rolling
racks filled with books and typically shares 10 percent to 25
percent of the proceeds in cash or 20 percent to 50 percent in
credit for books.
Independent book stores, such as Towne Book Center in
Collegeville, Pennsylvania, are also in the game. Towne offers
20 percent cash back if you host the sale in their store (30
percent toward books) or 10 percent to 25 percent in cash if the
event is at school (with up to 35 percent back in books if sales
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Scholastic is still undeniably the 800-pound gorilla of the
market, hosting about 125,000 book fairs a year and offering an
all-inclusive set-up kit that includes everything from large
displays to promotional materials.
These fairs are part of a category that accounts for
one-sixth of the company's book-selling revenue, according to a
company spokeswoman. Scholastic's way of trying to keep up with
the times is its just-released Book Fair App, which allows
parents to scan a bar code or book cover at a fair to find out
whether the book is appropriate for their child.
Scholastic typically gives 25 percent of the receipts to the
host school. It doubles that percentage if the school takes its
cut as a shopping credit - called Scholastic Dollars - to order
books and teaching supplies from its catalogs, keeping all the
Part of Scholastic's allure for schools is its availability
and simplicity. "We'll bring a book fair to any place in
America," says Anne Lee, Scholastic's vice president of program
development for book fairs.
ALTERNATIVES TO INDUSTRY GIANTS
It can be a tempting choice for school groups that might set
their goals on getting such items as electronic white boards or
stocking their library. Straying from the industry giant can
mean more work for parent groups, though it also might offer the
chance to get more of a cut of the sales.
That's what Alex Grabcheski found when he organized an
alternative book fair for his children's school in Brooklyn,
P.S. 29, four years ago.
Grabcheski is the owner of a local antique, consignment and
gift shop, Fork Pencil, and can order books with a retailer's
discount. He figured he could share that savings with the school
and put together an eclectic list of titles - from classics to
currently popular books priced from about $3.99 and up.
The take for the Parent-Teacher Association: 35 percent of
the proceeds. What's left covers costs, leaving Grabcheski's
business just breaking even.
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Fork Pencil book fairs are hosted by about 17 schools and
groups and Grabcheski expects they will continue to grow.
"It's not just us writing checks to the schools. It us
helping them to raise money," says Grabcheski.
While P.S. 29's PTA did not say how much cash it actually
takes in, sales have been 25 percent higher than those done with
Scholastic in past years, and the percentage take has been
higher. Grabcheski says book fairs he's run at some large
schools have generated as much as $80,000 in sales, which could
yield close to $30,000 for a school.
Robin Muskin, co-chair of P.S. 29's book fair and co-vice
president of its PTA, encourages other schools to do what
Grabcheski is doing, both for the cut of the profits and for the
ability to customize the selection of book. "We went for it and
it has been great," she said.
Despite the shifts, alternative book fairs are not a big
worry at Scholastic, according to Lee. She says the company is
up against greater challenges: "Our competitors are video games
and television. It's sort of our rallying cry."