IOBA Visits the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books


By Maria Bustillos, Julie Fauble and Greg Williams


Julie Fauble chatting with a visitor to the booth

On April 27th and 28th, UCLA hosted the 7th annual Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. As in previous years, the event featured scores of authors (noteworthy and otherwise), signing their works and just strolling around UCLA’s beautiful campus. Attendees could drop in on dozens of lectures, workshops and readings. The festival also featured hundreds of booths, with exhibitors from every aspect of the book industry, new and used bookstores, large and small publishers, well-known and obscure authors, comic books and literary magazines. Virtually any enterprise associated with the printed word had a presence at the Festival, and the IOBA was no exception.

The IOBA shared a booth with Popula, and spent a busy weekend passing out flyers, answering questions, recruiting new members and spreading the word to the thousands of people who passed by. Below are the recollections and reminiscences of three IOBA members who volunteered their time and energy to help get the word out.

The Festival of Books was such an overwhelmingly positive experience that the IOBA has already scheduled a second outreach event. The IOBA will be exhibiting May 18th and 19th at the Glendale International Book, Print and Paper Fair, (url: http://www.americanbookfairs.com/glendalem02.html ).

All members are invited to come out, help the IOBA spread the word to our colleagues in the profession, and meet your fellow IOBA members in person. It’s bound to be a great time, and we’re looking forward to seeing you there.

 

MARIA BUSTILLOS (Popula)

We met and chatted with many, many booksellers and interesting (and sometimes bizarre!) collectors. We were offered soup. We met our IOBA colleagues and entirely heroic and worthy fellow volunteers Mary Watanabe and Greg Williams (who looks like one of those really handsome young movie stars, Jason Lee maybe). We had our hands kissed, and later we were all hugged by this other and far weirder guy. We gave out tons of IOBA literature, and signed up new members. We saw George Plimpton.

And, (sit down if not seated already)…


Maria Bustillos & Julie Fauble

We met the incomparable Regards, Jeff.

I am Not Kidding. Having given little thought to the possibility of meeting inhabitants of heaven until sometime later, I had formed no idea of the physiognomy of my hero. Suffice it to say that Regards, Jeff, in the flesh, had much the same effect on your humble servant as David Bowie did in 1974.

My shrieks of sheer unbounded rapture and amazement woke not only the dead, but nearly everyone in the Valley as well. Mary Watanabe had to give me a time out, and later somewhat dryly remarked that I had made the place sound like a Chuck E. Cheese’s (sorry, Mary.)
JULIE FAUBLE (Century Books)

I can’t believe the size of the event — tons of booths and people. Our booth is sort of out in the hinterlands, but the streams of people going by are constant.

It’s a little bit chilly Saturday, with a small threat of rain. I’m frankly appalled. This is L.A. after all, where the sun is supposed to shine nonstop. Besides which, I forgot to pack an appropriate sweater.

The weather deters no one from the event, and the people come by in waves. Mary Watanabe is early on the scene, and we arm her with flyers (one designed for dealers, another for consumers called the “Book Buyers Bill of Rights”). Almost no one gets by her without taking one.

It takes us a little while to get our patter down, but eventually it starts to flow. We begin by asking people if they buy books on the Internet. A few look at us with horror in their eyes, as if we’d just asked if they eat babies raw. They skitter away from us as quickly as they can. A few answer with a quiet “not yet” and a wary look in their eyes. They’re obviously just waiting for an excuse to be tempted, and we try our best to oblige. We sing the praises of the Internet and assure them that if they go to IOBA member dealers, they’ll have wonderful book-buying experiences. Most, however, answer that they buy online now and then, mentioning Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and a few brave souls answer with a hearty “all the time.” We cheer these folks for their good sense and then quickly tell them all about IOBA, why they should buy from IOBA dealers and mention some of the many ways in which they can deal with sellers directly.

A handful of people tell us they sell online, too, and we make certain they know about IOBA and direct them to check out our description definitions and other online resources.

Sunday morning, I remembered to bring my business cards. Armed with those and a handful of IOBA brochures, I made some rounds through the booths. My first stop was Roger Gozdecki at The Book Shop. Yowch! What a way to start the day! Roger politely raked me over the coals with some excellent questions, such as “Why should an ABAA member join the IOBA?”

Why indeed? Here¹s the answer I gave him (minus all the errs, ums, stutters and stumblings):

ABAA members have a vested interest in IOBA’s mission of education for dealers and creating a safer, more stable online marketplace for consumers, which creates a better marketplace for all dealers. All of us have experienced fallout from the influx of dealers who either don’t know or don’t care about professional standards of description or customer service. Bad experiences scare customers out of the marketplace, and even those who buy again are wary, creating more work for the rest of us, in order to overcome their concerns.

For the dealers who don’t know better, we can educate them. We can help them be better sellers and in the process make the marketplace better for everyone. We can’t do much about the dealers who don’t care, but we can give consumers the tools to recognize the bad apples, so they can patronize the dealers who will give them the best book-buying experience.

That was the most interesting bit of the conversation, or at least the interesting bit that I remember well enough to repeat. Suffice it to say, I survived my grilling, and we parted on a congenial note.

After that I visited a few more booths, chatted up a couple more people, looked at lots of books (bought one — an admirable show of restraint, IMO) and wished that I could just attend as a regular consumer and spend as many hours as I wanted wandering about. But no such luck! It was back to the booth and the hordes of people, all eager for more information about buying online (some responded a little too enthusiastically – Maria acquired some interesting admirers!. It was exhausting, but a great experience.

GREG WILLIAMS (Greg Williams, Bookseller)

I walked to the Festival from my humble Westwood abode, leaving our cat to entertain herself with her paranoid hallucinations and psychotic episodes (our cat is a disturbed individual). It was a cooler, overcast day, the kind about which most Angelenos gripe incessantly, but for which my North Dakota relatives would give their frostbitten right arms.

I decided to enter campus from the South, so I could stroll through as much of the Festival grounds as possible on my way to the IOBA booth (a fateful decision, as it turned out…).

Entering campus, the Parking Services folks were out in force, performing their daily miracle of directing hundreds of cars into the campus’s 14 or so available parking spaces. I passed the Student Store where people were already lining up for former UCLA basketball coach John Wooden’s appearance several hours hence.

I entered the festival grounds proper and traipsed my way through the Dance Building courtyard, up the Janss steps into the famous Royce Hall quad (trust me, you’ve seen it in dozens of movies, TV shows and commercials). Even at this early hour, the Festival was hopping, throngs of people already laden with armfuls of biblio-swag, and lining up to get their books signed by a wide spectrum of authors and personalities (within the space of 5 minutes, I passed booths featuring Ray Bradbury, Michael Connelly and Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek).

I crossed over to Schoenberg Plaza, a section where most of the children-oriented booths were located. I shuddered a bit, as the sight of the kids’ area brought up long-repressed memories; one year, Festival organizers had invited the Oscar Mayer weinermobile, and the friendly frankfurter folks had handed out free plastic hot dog-shaped whistles to all the tots in attendance. The resulting, constant high-pitched whistling cacophony was the soundtrack to my nightmares for many months afterwards. Thankfully, however, this year there would be nothing more offensive than Barney singing his innocuous purple-dinosaur claptrap.

I had enjoyed my little stroll, but when I finally arrived at the IOBA booth, I learned I had paid a high price indeed; I had missed Regards, Jeff’s descent from Olympus by mere moments. Maria Bustillos was still overcome with the glory of His presence, and Julie Fauble was only now starting to ventilate normally. Alternatively reverent and hysteric, they recounted the visitation, struggling to describe the glory of the divine using our woefully inadequate mortal vocabulary.

A sense of calm finally prevailed, and formal introductions were made. I’d corresponded with Maria and Julie previously, and was very happy to finally meet them in person. I was also quite pleased to meet Mary Watanabe of Affordable Books & Collectibles, another IOBA member who had volunteered to help staff the booth.

We all quickly fell into a comfortable and enjoyable chattiness, swapping stories and comparing opinions on everything under the sun. I quickly picked up on the hooks Julie, Mary and Maria were employing to lure people to our booth, and in no time, I was out in the thick of it, intercepting folks as they passed by, and herding ’em into the tent.

We had a really eclectic mix of people interested in the IOBA. Soon after I arrived, a professor from the UCLA English Department stopped by and started to chat. As it turned out he, taught a class at UCLA on the history of the book, which covered everything from the development of the bookbinders’ craft, to the history of the publishing companies to modern-day bookselling practices. He was particularly interested in used booksellers (both online and B&M), and was extremely keen on checking out the IOBA.


Ken Fermoyle

As the day progressed, we entertained and enlightened numerous other people. We encountered several booksellers who were glad to learn about us, and were quite excited about joining the organization. There were also many people who seemed excited to meet us for other, although less wholesome reasons; one gentleman extracted several hugs from the ladies present, and even got me to engage in a lingering embrace (the tease…I’m sure he’ll never call). We also got to meet a couple of our colleagues and friends from the Bibliophile list, including Ken Fermoyle (bookseller and writer), who stopped by for a nice chat, and was gracious enough to pose for a photo.

As I talked to more and more people, it really struck me that even amongst a crowd of people who had gathered to celebrate their love and appreciation of books, a very large number of them had *never* purchased a book (new or used) online. Even amongst the minority who had, many bought primarily through Amazon or B&N, and hadn’t ever worked directly with the bookseller on the other end of the transaction.

As I heard the same responses over and over, I realized that there’s a *huge* untapped customer-base out there, people who love books, people who love to read, but who just need a *little* bit of nudging before they’ll jump into the world of online book buying. It was a real eye-opener for me, and I’m more thankful than ever to be a part of the IOBA, an organization that is actively trying to reach out to these people, to educate, assure and cultivate these potential customers.

It was a very pleasant afternoon, and the time passed very quickly. We passed out numerous flyers and talked to a lot of people, and by the time I departed, I felt really good about our efforts to get the word out about the IOBA. Most of all, however, I was very happy to have met Maria, Julie and Mary in person, and I hope that at future IOBA events, I’ll have the opportunity to meet even more of my fellow members.

 


 
 

The Standard: The Journal of the Independent Online Booksellers Association

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