A reflection – Colombo International Book Fair 2011

Colombo International Book Fair 2011

Colombo International Book Fair 2011

The 13th Colombo Book Fair concluded last month (September) on the 25th day. As someone who had a few stalls there, my reaction based on sales and crowd was that it was a roaring success. Even without having a prime spot for the stalls, we were able to draw in a big crowd towards our stall.

With speculation that the 13th book fair was able to draw in a crowd of just over a million, it can be said that the interest in reading is still very much alive in our country. With over 450 stalls present, it would be sensible to state that some came for a second or third glance.

Overall, our stall had an approximate total of about 5600 customers (made a transaction) over the 9 days. Below graph shows the spread. That might be about 0.56% from the total that attended the book fair, but that also means a customer nearly every minute of the book fair. Hopefully in the next one we would be able to target 7,500 or even 10,000 customers.

Customer stats for book fair 2011

Customer stats for book fair 2011

During the lazy hours when the crowd was not too significant, I had the luxury of browsing through some other stalls to see if any books would catch my eye. I had no target book in mind to grasp but in the end I did end up with about 20 books in my 3 strolls. Thinking of matters when it comes to browsing through the stalls, I felt that at times the stalls were not easy to maneuver about either due to the crowd or how the stall was arranged with books. In the past we’ve had our stall filled with as much books as possible and placing book racks in all the places we can fill inside the stall. This however did not help the customer who came to browse through and make a purchase freely. This time, we made the stall so that there was ample space to move about with minimum obstacles inside the stall.

After the book fair concluded and we had a good day’s rest, we asked a question on our fb page regarding how the book fair was to each of them. We got a total of 60 responses and the results are shown below.

Feedback for Book Fair 2011

Feedback for Book Fair 2011

As expected, the majority who responded were happy with book fair overall. There were few who showed dismay. Whatever it maybe, taking an overall prospective from a publisher/book sellers point of view and as a book lover, here are points to consider for improvement for the organisers as well as points for the crowd that come to browse through the books.

  • Get hold of the stall plan – With over 450 stalls (and most likely to increase further still for next year), its always wise to have in hand the stall plan to know where all the bookshops/publishers are located. We’ve had many a queries from customers who are clueless as to where their favourite bookshop is located as they are unaware of the stall map that is freely available at the entrance. So make it a point to get hold of the map, maybe make a note of how you want to go about the various stall so as to save yourself time as well as reduce the human clutter.
  • Separate stall into easy to find categories – A book publisher/book shop may have various titles under their roof and displaying most of them would be chaotic if not properly categorised. Make clear labels so that the customer can decide from outside the stall in which direction to go inside the stall to locate a book. Even with the limited spacing that all are given, it makes sense to have some sort of order in the rack arrangements so that your customer comes in, locates the books they want, make purchase and head off so that many more customers can do the same with ease. Must also add that most of the stalls that I visited did have some proper order to the arrangement of books on display.
  • Increase entrance fee to Rs 100 and redeem when purchasing at a stall – This was actually a suggestion by a twitter friend Raditha. I think its a good idea too since it will keep any unnecessary hooligans out of the book loving crowd. However, instead of a Rs 100 purchase, the ticket should be allowed only a purchase of Rs 90 so that the Rs 10 would go towards a fund as it is done at present. The bookshop could redeem Rs 90 back from each of the tickets at the end of the book fair. We must also note that even though Rs 10 is being charged for admission, its not implied for one’s who come in school uniform or the armed forces and clergy.

    Foursquare Special during book fair 2011

    Foursquare Special during book fair 2011.

  • Encourage foursquare check-in – Our stall was foursquare enabled with specials activated from the 3rd day of the book fair onwards. It didn’t have anything extra special from the discounts we had on offer but we thought of having it nevertheless so that the current foursqaure users were able to notice our stall details (and that we were offering between 20% to 33% discounts). I feel that this could be put to good use by other stalls as well in the next one since by then, there would be many more foursquare users in Sri Lanka (with new smart phones coming into market at pizza cheap prices!!). Although its not easy handling the check-ins by the stall with the already crowded space and little time availability, having a foursquare presence would surely attract more customers to one’s stall for sure.
  • Have a list of things and a pen to tick things up – Although there are many that randomly browse through stalls keeping an eye out for any books of interest, there are ones that have specific books in mind to purchase. Whether you like to hear this or not, chances are you might forget that very book you were thinking of buying after seeing all the other 1000s of books around, so it makes sense to have a list of books you need and if possible, search via the net and see which bookshop/publisher has it, make a note of it and then just skim through the stall map to find your desired book stalls at the book fair. Of course, once you are done, do have a stroll around the other stalls too to see what you can buy with that extra Rs 1000 bucks you saved from all the discounts that were given to you.
  • Make a visit to the Bargain stalls – Although somewhat hidden from the other lucrative stalls, there are about 20 stalls that sell old books and sometimes rare books that have less appeal in the modern book rack of book shops. These stall are a must visit if you are looking for those precious books at Kottu roti prices!! The discounts are at least 50% off, I need not say more.

So if you feel I have missed out on any points to consider when next book fair takes place (or if you have your thoughts on how the book fair was) do put a comment below and share with us. Next book fair will take place from September 21st to 29th 2012 so keep those days noted now itself!

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