April 22, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Move Over, Scholastic: Follett Launches Book Fairs

A recent book fair at the Leland Middle School in North Carolina.

Allison Gale spent seven days running a Scholastic Book Fair for Leland (NC) Middle School this fall. The fair is important to the school, where Gale is a media specialist: It yields needed funds for her library—and it’s the only chance some students have to buy books in person, she says.

“We do not have a book store in Leland,” notes Gale. “The Barnes and Noble and Books-A-Million are in Wilmington, about 10 miles away. So this is [their] only opportunity to visit a book store and purchase one.”

Gale wasn’t happy when the Scholastic book set-up arrived this year, however. It included fewer titles and more “swag and junk,” she says. Although Scholastic instructs schools to put everything out, Gale chose not to.

“They sent blankets, pillows, coffee mugs, drinking bottles, book bags, and fidget spinners,” she says. “I could not believe they sent a case of fidget spinners to a school. Teachers have a hard time taking time out of class for the book fair if it’s not about actual books and reading.”

Now in their 35th year, Scholastic Book Fairs are well known to schools and students around the country. Kids come in with spending money and bring home books of their choosing. But recently, librarians say, the focus has shifted with fewer titles sent to schools and more merchandise.

Scholastic Book Fairs president Alan Boyko acknowledges that merchandise accompanies the books. However, schools can opt out of these selections, he says. Scholastic has actually decreased its non-book offerings overall, according to Boyko. But this year, Scholastic sent new merchandise to middle school book fairs that were related to some favorite titles for that age group. That may “…have made it seem as if we’d increased [the amount of non-book items],” Boyko said via email.

“While every fair is stocked with award-winning, popular books that kids want to read, many schools also request non-book items—novelty pens and pencils, stationery kits, journals for their budding authors and journalists—in a concerted effort to make the event less intimidating for developing readers so everyone who attends can feel excited about being there,” Boyko says. “For book fair organizers who prefer not to include the non-book items, we offer a books-only fair option.”

Follett enters the market

Meanwhile, the educational distributor Follett is developing and rolling out its own new book fairs for schools. The company held 150 pilot book fairs across the country this year, including in Michigan and Georgia. More are planned for 2018—including one at Leland Middle School in the spring.

“For the pilots, we were selective based on region and size of school,” says Nader Qaimari, president of Follett School Solutions, which oversees the fairs. “For the full launch, everyone is eligible as we scale to new regions.”

The company’s acquisition of the distributor Baker & Taylor last year facilitated Follett’s venture into the book fair game, says Qaimari. Baker & Taylor’s distribution centers provided “a good opportunity to test this out,” he says. “The feedback from customers and publishers was overwhelmingly positive.”

Like Scholastic, Follett will also be focusing on the K–8 space. Tony Hopkins, senior vice president of new business development and the Follett Book Fairs, says that schools should expect to see some school supplies and journals in the mix—but not toys.

Martha Bongiorno, library media specialist at Richmond Hill (GA) Elementary School, has signed up for a Follett Book Fair for the spring. She says the physical quality of Scholastic books has decreased, and some parents have returned books whose pages have fallen out. Teachers, she adds, have “said the books are not really fitting our needs for second and third graders, and that a wide range of reading abilities and interests weren’t being offered.”

Bottom line: books

Librarian’s priority regarding book fairs is that every student leaves with a book. But that’s not always possible, particularly for students who may not receive spending money.

Hopkins says that Follett is working to adjust average price points to ensure that some books start at $1, in addition to widening the options of titles. “We want to ensure every kid gets to participate,” he says. “We want to partner with the school, and build a strategy to get parent participation.”

Scholastic is also focused on allowing students “to take home a book they’ll cherish,” says Boyko. “To this end, all of our book fairs include a selection of books for $2 on every case and across every genre.”

Both Scholastic and Follett also aim to add electronic prepaid accounts next year so that students, particularly young ones, won’t have to bring cash to school. The two companies also allow schools to take their book fair earnings in either cash or credit toward books and merchandise from their companies.

However students pay for their items, books fairs come down to books. Gale takes a week out of her work schedule to plan and run the fairs at Leland Middle School, and she wants that time to matter. “I had kids spending $60 and walking out without a book,” she says. “They would buy a T-shirt, a light-up pin, a bracelet. And I would say to them, ‘Do you know who many books you could have gotten with that?’”

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Lauren Barack About Lauren Barack

School Library Journal contributing editor Lauren Barack writes about the connection between media and education, business, and technology. A recipient of the Loeb Award for online journalism, she can be found at www.laurenbarack.com.

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  1. About time Scholastic had some competition! Good luck Follett in bringing them down a peg or two. Hope I get to host one of your new fairs soon at my MS library in a Texas.

  2. Alice Mikos says:

    Looking for less sensational books, more titles that fit SLJ quality reviews, and more durable bindings. More quality non-fiction. More books that stand the test of time than the toy related commercial spin offs. More quality graphics novels with value-added beyond an easy read. Selection that spans the interests of readers represented in the school, not just the mid-level readers. We live on an island and parents need to have better choices and not settle for buying “something “ instead of something worth buying. Go Follett! Hope to see you in our area soon with great benefits to our readers. Also hoping that the profits can be spent at Titlewave!!

  3. S. Thompson says:

    I’m hoping Follett considers expanding their book fairs into Canada in the future. Scholastic needs some competition up here, too!

  4. Hoping Follett will customize age ranges. I teach at a Pre-K to 1st grade building and Scholastic insisted on sending a K-5 fair then were upset with me when I didn’t put older grade chapter books or toys aged 7 and up out.

  5. Linda Mauer says:

    This is a long time coming! I am an elementary librarian and I am not satisfied with Scholastic book fairs. I choose not to put out all of the merchandise because it is so cheap and that is what the kids are drawn to rather than books. Even though our sales are high, the quality of books could be better. Too many books that have been commercialized. Movies, games and TV shows are monopolizing the Scholastic market. I would welcome a Follett book fair!
    Linda Mauer
    Lake Stevens School District
    Mt. Pilchuck Elementary

  6. Amy Christman says:

    When oh when will book companies do book fairs for HIGH SCHOOL! I know I’d have kids come and enjoy a book fair at my HS library but no one seems to want to tackle that market.

  7. Kathy Bollig says:

    I agree! Scholastic book fairs keep getting further and further from actual books. I won’t put that stuff out anymore. It’s a book sale, not a cheap toy sale. book quality seems to have stopped being a focus as well, especially for older kids. I don’t want books about ghosts or romance which leaves precious little to show my high schoolers

  8. SO happy to hear this!!!

  9. J. Peterson says:

    I am happy to hear there is some competition out there for Scholastic. I stopped doing book fairs probably 10 years ago. I had asked them not to send the junk because that is what kids spent their money on. When you are at a school where kids are at the poverty line, I hated to see their parents spend what little money they had on flashing pens or posters. They also accused me of stealing the credit card payments from my last fair. They would call our school every day for 2 months to ask us where the money was. I am not even sure how I could steal credit card payments. Finally, one of the people who used a credit card was able to have the payment traced to Scholastic. They stopped calling and sent the secretary and myself a pen as an apology. Never again. I have a library full of free books for my students to read, they shouldn’t have to feel bad when they cannot afford a book from the book fair.

  10. I would also point out that while Scholastic may allow you to take profit in cash, that is only if you sell a certain amount of merchandise for them. For a school that relies on this for fundraising, raising the ceiling of what we had to sell was a major factor in our school looking to move elsewhere for our book fairs.

  11. Julie Svoboda says:

    I’m glad that Follett is getting into the book fair scene, but I would really love to see a book fair for high school students. I host an after-school book club in my high school library, and the students who belong to it love books. Some of them tell me that the only gifts they ask for during the holidays are books.

  12. Susan Plaisted says:

    I am so glad to see another company joining the book fair scene. I have been doing 2 book fairs a year with Scholastic for the last 14 years. As the librarian of my school of only 85 to 100 students (one class of K through 4th) we never generate enough sales to take a cash profit so I only get to choose more Scholastic Books. I continually ask them not to send junk, verbally and through e-mails and still receive junk. With this being a high poverty area what little money the kids bring in I would like to see more reasonable-priced books. Hopefully Follett will listen to what we really want and need.

  13. I just wrapped up another Scholastic book fair, and hopefully it was my LAST one ever! I specifically requested no junk (“school supplies” as Scholastic calls it), and the teachers were ecstatic not to have that stuff coming back into their classrooms. Even though it was a books only fair, the quality of their content was disappointing. Scholastic sent so many gaming books, comic books, Lego books, etc. It was almost embarrassing to have parents come in and see what we were offering. I’ve already scheduled my Follett book fair for next year down here in Texas, and I’m excited to see what they have to offer!

  14. I am in the midst of having our spring Scholastic fair. Many books are the same ones we got in the fall. Nothing really new. Very unimpressed. Will not be signing up for the fall. Too much crappy plastic toys. Felt like a carnival.

  15. Unfortunate that Follett is doing so poorly with their school sales. They unable to manage that market yet feel they’re prepared for Book Fairs. They survive in the college market on non-book biz; t-shirts/wearables, music albums and other misc merchandise, so they’ll include assorted stuff in book fairs too, like Scholastic does. Book fairs are a consumer event, as noted by the school admin who said theres’ no bookstore locally.
    Schools/school staff always have an option to buy books online from Scholastic 24/7. so what that Scholastic merchandises some pencils and liscensed goods at a fair?!! It brings a book store to town (have you been in a B&N lately??)

  16. Former Teacher says:

    Do you buy everything in every aisle at the grocery store? It’s the same for shopping anywhere or at a book fair. People buy what they want and need.

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