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A Tale of Two Book Markets

September 10, 2014

I’ve just been completely rushed off my feet running a stall at two book markets back to back.

“Why”? you may ask, “Aren’t you on Portobello Market every Saturday? “Yes, we are, but that’s a proper market, with real traders, a totally different environment, a tonic for the mind, and a great way to meet people you wouldn’t run into otherwise.

The first one was a book market organised as part of the Uitmarkt, the opening of the cultural season in Amsterdam. A ‘grand’ and expensive affair. Not only that, it turned out it was an extremely wet one as well. Within half an hour of arriving the table cloth on our stall was soaked as well as some of our books. A very helpful neighbour, selling ‘a colouring book for grown-ups’, swiftly helped to shake off the excess water and miraculously the affected books survived.

It was not a good start on Saturday and we nearly made the decision to abandon the whole exercise. Fortunately the weather improved somewhat and the customers arrived. Yet, the people walking past our stall were well off and clearly fancied themselves as lovers of culture. Well, they had come out in rainy weather to check out a book market, so why did they look as if they had seen it all and hence didn’t check out a few more books?

Luckily we managed to catch up with some friends and the weather improved on Sunday, so we could enjoy more discussions with discerning readers. However, a certain lack of readers of the literary kind was obvious, probably because Manuscripta (annual showcase of authors and new novels) did not coincide this year with the Amsterdam Uitmarkt. It did last year and we had record sales.

The second book market was a completely different animal. Modest in its aims but great in its delivery and it was very well organised. A big thank you to Chrissy and Joey for putting together a very successful Poetry Book Fair. Best comment of the day: “Coming here is like being in a candy shop!”

To be surrounded by poetry lovers is always a joy. Why? Because poetry lovers are such adventurous readers. They are always looking for a new voice, a new experience, they want to be challenged. And they prefer reading printed books. Poets are also very supported of each other.

Yes, I know, fiction is a much larger market but more set in its ways. For example, when someone appears at your stall saying they’re looking for something by Hilary Mantel, try selling them a wonderful novel by another author.  However, when confronted by someone who is looking for something by Byron, it’s actually rather easy to sell them good poetry collection by someone else. In fact, I’ve encountered both these scenarios.

After one weekend at a book market in Amsterdam falling a bit short of expectations and another at an indoor poetry book market in London exceeding expectations, I’m very much looking forward to going back to normal and be at our stall in the arts & crafts square on Portobello market on Saturdays.