I was at the Collingswood Book Festival this past weekend and I noticed that the attendees bought less books than in the past. At first glance, you'd think this was due to the bad economy. Yet, they seemed to be buying plenty of ice cream and pizza. This trend does not bode well for America's wars on obesity and illiteracy. (Okay, I admit, I too bought ice cream. You can't be that close to the Pop Shop in Collingswood and NOT get ice cream.)
The other years I've manned a booth at this festival, people would stop by and talk about books or ask about writing. Even kids did this, which made the long day of fighting Philly traffic, schlepping books and worrying about the weather worth the trip.
This year, only a handful of folks struck up a conversation. Most tried to walk by as far from the booth as possible, without making eye contact. Of the few that slowed down to read my poster, if I said "hello" or "Do you like mystery books?", I often earned an anguished "Please don't speak to me" look in return. Other reactions included a wrinkled nose expression of disgust, as if I'd offered to put live slugs on the slice of pizza in their hands. One woman went off into a long-winded tirade about how she hadn't brought cash and none of the vendors would take her MAC card. (Most of the booths were occupied by authors or authors' organizations.)
However, I gave out more business cards than in past years. Some said they'd look up my books in the library, which is fine by me. If I did my job right, after reading one novel, those people will seek out another. But also, the next morning I saw that my digital sales had spiked. I'm thinking that this is the trend most worth noting.
I'll end this with a description of one customer who walked up to my table wheeling a small cloth rucksack behind her. The sack was stuffed to the ripping point with books. She patiently listened to my elevator series synopsis, then said she'd run out of money. I'd heard this as a rebuff from other potential readers, so I wasn't surprised when she walked away. But fifteen minutes later, she was back to buy a novel--she'd gone home to drop off her load and grab more cash. She said she was going away for 3 days (days!) and was afraid of running out of things to read.
In the book world, this is like meeting a living saint. God bless those readers, every one.