Make Money with Book Fairs!

Josie Leavitt - October 20, 2009

We had a book fair that made money and I didn’t have to do anything! I was stunned. The key to this book fair was having it in the store. 

A book fair involves my staff, usually me, ordering, receiving and packing up a shocking number of boxes and hauling them to the school. Then we would help the PTO volunteers unpack, inventory and set-up the book fair. Then for two and a half days if teachers remembered or felt they could give up a class period kids would stroll in and buy or not buy books. Sometimes the kids had money, more often than not they didn’t. We’d have enormous hold stacks that would hopefully get purchased by the end of each day. We tended to compete with a used book fair running on the opposite side of the gym. This is not a set-up I recommend, but one we could not avoid at our school as both book fairs had run concurrently for decades. Trying to sell a $15 hardcover is hard enough to do on a good day, but when you can buy a bag of books for $1.50, you don’t really stand a chance.

An in-store book fair involves nothing on my part but making sure I’ve got the hot books in stock. We run our in-store book fairs from a weekend to a weekend. I think this really allows the greatest visibility for the fair and makes reordering easy. Also, working parents stand a better chance of making it in the store if they’ve got two weekends to come in. The real beauty of having parents and kids come to the store is they come to the store. And once in the store they realize how much stock we’ve got for all ages. I sold $36 of cards to someone last night–this is most assuredly a sale that would not have happened at the school.

The key to a really successful in-store book fair is promoting at the school level and also at the store. Staffers need to have their speech down pat for customers so they can quickly state what’s going and who will benefit. We also had ample signage throughout the store, so folks knew what was going on and what school was benefiting.

As the book fair wound down, I realized that my workload had not increased because I had no boxes of books to check back in. There were no massive returns to do or hours of reshelving. All I had to do was run a report, which happily showed we took in more money this year than we did last year, and then write a check to the library that would then come spend with us on books.

All in all, a great win-win.

5 thoughts on “Make Money with Book Fairs!

  1. bookreader777

    This is nice in concept, Josie, but it does not work when your school is located 40 miles from the nearest B & N or Walden or whatever book store. I will not ask my parents to drive that distance to purchase items on which we may receive 20 or 25% return. I will involve my parents in their child’s school, asking them to bring their child to work at the fair during which they will have an opportunity to both learn and/or demonstrate skills in marketing, customer service and display. And I will make 40 – 50% return. And I will do this because it is good for my staff, students, parents, district and because this is the only source for new books my media center has due to the economic downturn. Thanks for the idea anyway.

  2. Alicia Michielli

    We have had some success with this on a smaller level with a local charter school and an early childhood program — it’s mutually benficial to the school and to our store, and it raises awareness of our Local First movement in Buffalo, NY! We have our bookfairs in November, and we find that the parents tend to do their holiday shopping when they know their child’s school will benefit. Win-Win!

  3. daisydolots

    Generally, what is the profit percentage breakdown for an in-store bookfair, i.e., for a $100 purchase, how much goes to the store and how much to the school? Does offering coupons (say 10% off) help to get people in the store? We currently have 2 Scholastic bookfairs per year (one is a BOGO free), but we’d like to transition to working with a local, independent bookstore. Thanks in advance.

  4. shelftalker elizabeth

    Daisy, each bookstore handles the sharing differently. Some offer a percentage of profits in store credit, others offer the option of a lower percentage in cash. Some schools split their profit with the school community, discounting the books for students and keeping a smaller percentage for the library. You should definitely approach your local indies to find out their terms!

  5. gailg

    Our elementary school used to run its book fair during the week of parent/teacher conferences, so it was happening at a time when parents were in the building in the afternoons. So if you have to run a fair in a school, trying to do it during a time when the parents are around, anyway, might help produce better results. A former PTO volunteer who worked the book fair many times


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