Book Fairs: Financial Pressure, But Also an Outlet for It

By Neal Comment

texas-book-fest-logo.gifThe Texas Book Festival is coming up this weekend, and we wish we could make it out to Austin, but our travel budget is just about depleted for 2008. (We may have a line on some field dispatches, though; stay tuned!) We asked the festival’s literary director, Clay Smith, if he’d been feeling a similar economic crunch, given current conditions, and he observed that the festival has been picking up the travel and hotel tab for more writers this year than usual (and if you’ve ever seen their guest list, you know: that’s a lot of writers).

“It does seem like publishers are spending more on marketing and ads than on touring,” he emailed us, “which is a problem for festivals and bookstores that have a history of putting on good events… Writers still want to be a part of a big festival like ours so the economy hasn’t put a damper on the quality of our writers, but it has made publishers more watchful of the costs of a tour.” Concern over travel expenses might also, he conceded, affect potential attendees who live beyond the immediate Austin area. “But I actually think a book festival can benefit from the moments in our culture when our national problems seem nebulous and inexplicable,” Smith adds. “We’ve seen a proliferation in the ways ideas are conveyed (blogs, social networking, etc.), and that’s been kind of thrilling to watch, but I think that the big ideas in our culture still come from books.”

“A book gives a writer the space and the format for a thoughtful look at the issues we face in a way most media outlets either can’t, or refuse, to do. A book festival gives our audience access to those writers who are thinking about these issues and during the sessions at the Festival, our writers give the audience clear ways to understand our culture’s problems (and its positive aspects, too!).”