As well as the regular catalogues offered by Scholastic, schools can also hold a Book Fair on site, which entitles them to extra discounts and benefits. I spoke with a P&C committee member who recently helped run a Book Fair at her school to get the full story on how they work.
Q. What is the first step when running a book fair?
One of the senior admin team contacted Scholastic, indicating that she would like to run a Book Fair, and she was given some available dates from which she could choose.
There is a $50 Scholastic Reward Incentive given to your school just for booking a fair, and then another $60 for selecting the same timeslot each year. The restriction on this Reward is that it cannot be used as commission for the school but has to be used towards promoting your event. To take advantage of this offer, you have to commit to these dates before your Book Fair commences. This is a mutually beneficial arrangement, whereby the school benefits from $110 worth of Scholastic Rewards to spend promoting your event, and Scholastic has the administrative benefit of a secured booking for the following year.
While we took advantage of this offer this year (we were able to use the $110 to offer Scholastic prizes in the lead-up to the Book Fair) in hindsight, it might have been better to just accept the $50, and not have to commit to the same time the following year. We could then decide if and when to re-book after we had held the Fair.
Q. Schools are given a free starter pack which includes a lot of promotional items, such as wish-lists, posters, invites etc. Did you actually use most of this?
Yes, we did. The physical kit is really just the tip of the iceberg. Once you have committed to running a Book Fair, Scholastic issues you with a Fair Number and a Password. This unlocks a myriad of online tools and resources on the Scholastic Website to assist you in promoting and running your Fair, such as promotional and decorating ideas, sample invitation letters, clipart relating to the Book Fair theme, how to set up your fair, feedback forms, payment and summary forms and more. It is very informative and easy to navigate.
Q. What size space would you have to commit to holding a Fair?
The standard kit you receive includes four large mobile bookshelves that open up, plus a number of boxes of merchandise and stationery items for sale. These items easily took up two long tables, and we constantly had to restock. We had a separate table for payments and to display books that needed to be ordered. A classroom or clear space in the library would be required, somewhere that can be closed or locked when not in use.
Q. What was the school expected to provide?
The school needs to provide the tables and stationery to assist with displaying materials such as Blu-tac (to display posters), sticky tape, scissors, calculators, pens, pencils, money tin, and a cash ‘float’. Everything else is provided such as tablecloths (Scholastic red, of course), holders to display books, re-order forms and we requested a mobile EFT machine which was incredibly easy to use and meant people didn’t have to bring cash.
Q. How long did it take to do the set up?
Our library officer set it up and it would have taken her about an hour and a half. All the books are already inside the mobile bookcases, they just need to be tidied but all the stationery and other merchandise need to be unpacked and set out.
There is extensive online instruction on how to set up your Fair, if you require it. This includes how to set up your:
- Poster display
- Re-order protocol
- Table layout
- Mobile bookcases
- School supplies (ie merchandise)
Q. Are you allowed to decide how often and how long you run the Fair for?
It is up to the school to decide opening times, Scholastic doesn’t prescribe anything. You are provided with the Fair materials for the week, and you decide what works best.
You could do what we did, which would be considered ‘Basic Book Fair 101’, just opening for half an hour before and after school each day. Or you can get fancy and host special ‘Family Events’ during the evening or over the weekend. You could have special events such as inviting the extended community, Grandparent Days, Wine and Cheese Nights, Book Parades, Award Nights or Family Reading Times during the day. The sky is the limit, and depends entirely on your available time, volunteers and resources.
Q. How to do the commissions works?
Based on your total Book Fair revenue, your school can earn 35% of Book Fair product; 30% of Scholastic Rewards, 20% straight out cash, or a mixture of the aforementioned.
Books and merchandise are not listed separately – this is based on total revenue raised. For example, if your Fair raises $4,000, your school could choose $1400 in Book Fair product OR $1200 in Scholastic Rewards OR $800 cash OR a combo of all three.
Q. There is a lot of merchandise for sale, such as erasers, novelty pens and small toys. Do you have to sell the merchandise or can you just sell books?
Naturally, the merchandise is a money spinner, and everyone wins in a monetary sense, as commission earned is based on total revenue, not just book revenue. However, there is a bigger philosophical and ethical dilemma in that the stated purpose of the Book Fair is to ‘get more kids reading and get kids reading more’. When the majority of purchases made are for non-reading related merchandise, we have a problem.
Also, if, as a school, we are committed to being a ‘green’ school, then actively choosing to sell plastic, non-recyclable non-reading related merchandise for the purposes of increasing our commission doesn’t feel right, particularly under the guise of a ‘Book Fair’. It is something we will need to consider in future.
Q. What would you do differently for next year?
Have a committee dedicated to planning and implementing the event, not just one individual. Planning needs to start months in advance.
Consider changing the format and the focus – for some schools, the purpose of hosting Book Fair is to provide parents and students with the opportunity to purchase books for the school library, based on a staff wish-list. This is a great way to meet multiple objectives at once, and is completely non-merchandise focused. It is also a point of difference from the Book Club, which is focused more on kids getting books for themselves.
Perhaps Book Fair could be hosted across a weekend, piggy-backing onto existing events, or onto specific days only.
Q. What are your Top 3 Tips for another school considering the Book Fair?
Have a clear idea of what you wish to achieve by hosting a Book Fair. If the same objective can be reached by holding Book Clubs, then go with the latter. It’s a much less time intensive strategy.
Form a committee and start planning in advance. Make sure you have ample volunteers to run the stall. For the first few days make sure you have two or even three volunteers manning the stall as these will be the busiest days and the queues can form quickly. By the end of the week, things quieten down and you can manage with only one or two people.
Encourage your school to develop a clearly articulated library/classroom wish-list and/or Scholastic Reward targets in advance, so that your promotional strategies can be more targeted. School staff as well as parent volunteers need to be committed to assist, both administratively and operationally, if the event is going to run smoothly and be successful.
Also, don’t feel pressured to re-book for the same time the following year, unless it suits your school.
Two years later we elected to run the Book Fair in conjunction with a Grandparents Morning Tea as well as restricting the sale of merchandise. This meant we were essentially only selling books. The feedback was very positive, and we still made a comparable profit. We made a ‘wish list’ table with samples of books we wanted for our library. Grandparents attending the morning tea not only bought their own grandkids books, but many also purchased books for the library. We kept a sticky note pad on hand to note down the names and dedication that would eventually be printed inside the books.
To find out more about running a Book Fair visit the Scholastic site here.