Notebooks, diploma frames, backpacks, golf clubs, wine corks, garbage cans, and enough imprinted caps to spare every head at the Super Bowl from sunstroke were ferociously displayed at the National Association of College Stores annual CAMEX college retail merchandising show in St. Louis, on March 7-10. The nonstop merch madness was rivaled, one must have thought, only by the “holy hardware” dominating the Christian Booksellers Association show. And who can blame ’em? College stores doubled their market share between 1990 and 2000, NACS reported, raking in more than $10.68 billion in 2002.
Attendance of over 7,000 was up significantly from last year’s event, where turnout was dampened in the aftermath of 9/11, though it may be obvious by now that the booksellers’ row at this mega-convention is dwarfed by the incidental merchandise vendors who capture most of the floor space and all of the glitz. Major publishing houses peered out from tiny booths, while the largest book presence was to be found in the booth displaying the prowess of MBS, the nation’s largest used-textbook wholesaler, which also operates many of the college stores’ point-of-sales systems. (MBS, which is 75% owned by Len Riggio, reports that textbooks average 60 – 70% of most college bookstores’ total sales.) Their biggest competition, Follett’s, was also present, but boasted slightly less expansive digs.
Let it be noted that the scariest trend, but one which might help out at BEA as show days wear on, was the presence of every imaginable caffeinated item: Jolt Gum, Penguin Caffeinated mints, “ephedra free” (which one convention-goer mistook as Free Ephedra!), spiked chocolate bars, and energy drinks galore. Starbucks, evidently, is over-priced for the student market.
We thank Robert Riger, Associate Publisher of SparkNotes, for his contribution to this report.