YOUR MONEY-Barnes & Noble, Scholastic challenged on book fair turf | Reuters

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

exceed $4,000).

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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

profits in-house.

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.


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."

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