Move Over, Scholastic: Follett Launches Book Fairs

As Scholastic fields complaints about merchandising included in book fair materials, Follett builds its own book fair program.

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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Janielle Paul null

I have completed 8 scholastic book fairs. Every time, I have been sent less and less product. Their argument is that Conferences are a busy time and they have to spread the product between so many schools. Their suggestion is for me to change the dates of my fair. That is not good business. I would get less traffic at the book fair if it is not during early release days. So my profit and theirs would be significantly less. They should s nd more product. They also do not have very many Spanish books to send and we are a dual language school. Another thing that is really upsetting is that scholastic marks up their book price so much more than other publishers so your profit does not go very far. Hoping follett will be a refreshing new alternative!

Posted : Aug 25, 2018 06:01


Former Teacher

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.

Posted : Apr 11, 2018 06:19


fred h

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??)

Posted : Apr 06, 2018 01:47


S.Lefaivre

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.

Posted : Feb 23, 2018 10:50

Frank Braun

I'd be delighted to send you some info for your next literacy event. Email me at fbraun@follett.com

Posted : Feb 23, 2018 10:50


S. Howell

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!

Posted : Feb 21, 2018 08:45


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