Scholastic Book Fair filter
October 19, 2010 6:13 PM   Subscribe

Is the Scholastic Book Fair really free or is it a shill?

The Scholastic Book Fair (henceforth SBF) and other school book fairs have been discussed here.

I am working as a school librarian and for a couple of years our school hosted a Scholastic Book Fair. A colleague administered this and my impression was that the Fair was an expense to the school, i.e. we had to spend a certain sum of money before we earned points for "free" books. On this basis, and since the colleague has left, I decided not to offer the Scholastic Book Fair this year.

The teacher community had other objections as well to the SBF, similar to these. The SBF sold toys that distracted our students, who should be focusing on books; it was also geared towards elementary and middle school students, and bored our high school students, who complained about "baby" books.

Our school in any case became eligible for a nonprofit grant of free books (no strings attached) for the students. These books are being distributed at a book fair of our own which I am organizing. There will be no toys and more of the books are intended for young adult readers.

Nonetheless I had trouble shaking off the SBF representative, who insisted that a SBF would not cost us anything. I am having trouble believing this. What is the unvarnished truth?

Cf. Wikipedia on Scholastic Book Club points.
posted by bad grammar to Education (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I was a smart, bookwormy, geeky elementary schooler.

I LOVED the book fair. It was fun, I got my parents to buy me books, sometimes there was a Clifford the Big Red Dog costume that some adult wore. It rocked. I loved book orders, too.

It definitely slanted toward elementary school, but there were some middle school books as well. There were definitely no high-school level books that I can remember, but I also wasn't in the market. Perhaps HS students could volunteer or something?

Anyway, I have ZERO idea about the money issues, or whatever, but I loved book fairs as a kid.
posted by papayaninja at 6:44 PM on October 19, 2010 [6 favorites]

Our daughter's daycare runs the scholastic book clubs. I like it because each season (?) they offer at least one book for $1. They also have lots of other reasonably priced books. And the teachers can make a wishlist, and my understanding is that they get one free book for every order placed online. I certainly don't think it costs the daycare center any money.
posted by dpx.mfx at 6:44 PM on October 19, 2010

I'm running an elementary school Scholastic Book Fair this week. It's my third fair, I think I'm getting pretty good at it now. I think the SBF rep is being honest when s/he says that the fair won't cost you anything (but time and hassle.) There's no minimum sales or anything, no delivery charge, I've never paid a dime. Here are my thoughts about SBF should they interest you:

1) You can sell whatever you want. I'm fortunate to have an office big enough to hold the boxes full of plastic garbage that I'm choosing not to display. This is officially ok with Scholastic. You can also reject books that don't meet your standards- just leave 'em in boxes.

2) You can go to the warehouse and choose books that will interest your kids– I did this last night. First I go through the cases they delivered, saw what was there and what wasn't. Then I went 'shopping'. I was also careful to look for stuff with sale stickers, because I need a table of cheaper books for kids without much money.

3) Most of the books are expensive, I always feel bad that we're charging so much, but we get a very big cut of the proceeds– 60% of your gross if you take your profit in Scholastic books (that's if you gross over $3000, which is easy for my 500+ student elementary school.) I always emphasize to the parents that each purchase is really a gift to the library collection.

4) The WORST thing about the whole deal is spending the money. First, because you pay full price for all books (unless there's a reduced-price sticker), and second because the selection is terrible. Scholastic has perhaps one in 5 of the books I want for my library, and that's being generous. OTOH, they will let you use the 'Scholastic Book Dollars' to buy other things: I just bought a Smart Board (at an inflated price) with mine.

It can be a reasonable way to get new books into your collection if you do it carefully. It's worth a trip to the warehouse to see if they have any titles your kids would read.
posted by carterk at 6:52 PM on October 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

My mom is a 4th grade teacher. Because of the points her class earns at the book fair and through the send-home flyers, she's able to get around 10-20 new books a semester and usually a computer game or two (of her own choice) for her classroom, free of charge. Coupled with what carterk has said, I think it's a good program.

And when I was a kid shopping the book fair I always made a beeline for the craft/activity books (usually those spiral-bound things with clay or beads or magnets attached to them). Because of my mom's incredible library I had already read all the book-books anyway. Those were a lot of (overpriced) fun.
posted by phunniemee at 7:03 PM on October 19, 2010

Thanks for the answers so soon. Without going into detail, my school has a majority of lower-income students and I still think that the nonprofit donation for which we qualified is preferable, though it was a dreadfully slow process. Since I have the goal of reducing the school library's expenses while continuing to maintain or improve service, I don't trust children's book publishers and I avoid dealing with them. Many of our new books have been funded by grants or bought from Amazon Marketplace.
posted by bad grammar at 7:26 PM on October 19, 2010

I ran the SBF at my son's elementary school for several years. SB does not charge schools to bring the fair to the school. The way it works, SB sends out inventoried portable bookcases and boxes filled with stock to the school, collects the cases after the fair and does a second inventory. The a percentage of the list price of the items that are sold (eg not returned to SB for the second inventory) are deducted from the receipts of the sale and the school gets the rest of the money.

The percentage depends on the total sales receipts: the more the fair sells, the higher the percentage the school gets to keep, up to a certain point. At the time I was running the fairs, the base percentage was 30% to the school, 70% to SB. If a school agrees to hold 2 fairs/school year, the second fair is called a BOGO (buy one, get one free) thus a base split of 50/50, with the % to the school increasing the higher the sales receipts.

Additionally, SB offers credits (again, based on sales benchmarks) to the school to purchase additional books from the SB catalog. Our school librarian complained that the SB catalog prices were very inflated and our modest sized sales rarely brought in enough for her to be able to purchase more than a dozen books (in library binding) for the library.

SBF's book selection pretty much tops out at middle school. They do send along a very small handful of teen- and adult- appropriate books but they are more along the lines of trendy self-help or how-to (make up, cookbooks) titles rather than literature. Those selections also tend to be somewhat outdated, the sort of thing one could find for 50-75% off list at a mall bookstore's remainder table yet are offered at list price at the SBF. You can ask your SBF rep to send more age appropriate titles but I honestly don't think they offer much in the high school range. The reps also try but they are often subject to the whim of the warehouse (who did things like send 10 crates of books about Hanukkah to our school that was 99.1% Hispanic).

I disliked the toys, non-educational media and geegaws too and the way we school volunteers handled it is by simply not putting those items out for sale. We left them hidden in their shipping boxes for the duration of the sale. The school volunteers running the fair have the power here, while an SBF rep might visit the school during the sale, the rep cannot dictate what items the school chooses to display. Of course, my policy about not selling books impacted our sales totals (that crap is incredibly popular) but I looked at SBF as a way to get books into the hands of young readers at our school, the majority of whom came from low income, non-English speaking families. The book fair was a big event at our school (SB offers another bonus if the school schedules the fair during another parent event, such as back-to-school night) and it was nice seeing families who might not otherwise have the resources to take their kids to a bookstore come in with their kids and buy a $3 book. The nice thing about SB is they do print inexpensive paperback versions of current titles which were not available at that price online or brick & mortar bookstores.
posted by jamaro at 7:28 PM on October 19, 2010

The teachers at the schools my kids have attended have adored the Scholastic program, and much of my childhood library came from my mother's school connections with the program.

I've gone to the book fair as a parent and even at an elementary school there were always many books available that were way above the average elementary level.

Did my kids want the bullshit "spy kit"? Yeah. Did I get it on the condition that we'd also get some great classic and modern kids' books for our home library? You bet.
posted by padraigin at 8:29 PM on October 19, 2010

I'm a school librarian running my 3rd Scholastic book fair right now, too. Just like carterk says, although it does take time and energy, it doesn't cost any money. I usually take most of my profits in regular dollars rather than "Scholastic" dollars, so it doesn't appear to be as much, but I like the freedom to buy what I want with the money rather than only buying from Scholastic.

I am also buying a SmartBoard with the money I've made from the fair (we have about 900 kids at our school, so it's a big money maker). I put some of the crappy, overpriced toys/supplies out because I remember being so excited about that stuff during my elementary years, but there is definitely some stuff I keep in the boxes.

Our school has it's share of low income students, so this time around we're participating in a charity program that Scholastic does called "One For Books." We plan on using the money we collect to buy books for some of kids who can't buy anything at the fair.

Also--some of my librarian friends have run book fairs through Borders or Barnes and Noble that have been successful. I don't think you make as much money with these, but it is a lot less labor intensive.
posted by Junie Bloom at 8:42 PM on October 19, 2010

You know, as a used bookstore employee, I see Scholastic book club paperbacks come over the counter, and they're often books that are only released as hardcovers in the store so far, and that's cool. I assume parents who might not purchase the hardcover of something might shell out the dough for a cheaper bookclub paperback, and kids + books = good.
posted by redsparkler at 12:28 AM on October 20, 2010

Teacher here. The question of it being genuinely free seems to be answered above, but one thing to consider (especially because you mentioned it's a lower-income population, and I see this every year at my school):

* The kids are usually brought to the fair to browse and make wish lists. So, kids getting exposure to fun books that entice them to read is a priceless lesson;

* but then, you have kids feeling really sh*tty because they can't afford to buy any of those expensive, awesome books. That's an entirely different and miserable lesson. So the school sets up a situation where economic disparity and lifestyle choices come to the surface (things the kids can't control), and you can end up with a lot of bad feelings. And kids with bad feelings can become the kids who act out in class, etc.

So it can be a decent moneymaker, but from my perspective, it comes at too much of a cost to the kids' self-esteem.
posted by dzaz at 2:38 AM on October 20, 2010

***and yes, sometimes free books are given away to every kid in school, but still, it's not always the book the kid would choose, and the kids are aware of who is buying a big stack while they get their (sometimes unwanted) freebie.
posted by dzaz at 2:47 AM on October 20, 2010

I loved and hated the book fair as a kid. I irrationally looked forward to it but at most could spend $5, and that meant maybe one or two books, and it was all below my reading level.

On the other hand, our teachers picked freebie books we thought were awesome (in fifth grade we each got a copy of the World Almanac and walked around quoting inane trivia at one another the rest of the year.)

And this put me on the path to loving used bookstores, so.
posted by SMPA at 6:44 AM on October 20, 2010

I also went to a lower-income elementary school that had the Scholastic Book Fair every year.

To give you an idea what our school was like, it was in southern Maine, had about 400 students, grades 1-6, and about 40-50% of students were eligible for free or discounted school lunches, where eligibility is based on the student's family income.

I vividly remember disliking my school's annual Scholastic Book Fair just because my parents couldn't afford the books.

Every year, during fair time, I'd go out of my way to avoid the fair for as long as I could because it made me feel bad, but then some teacher would always drag a group of us and force us to look around the collection for an hour. I'm not sure what good came of that except made the poorer kids feel worse because they are put in front of a display of things they can't have. Or even worse when other kids with money purchase really kick-ass looking books. With shiny covers, no less.

Looking back, I remember the books at the Scholastic Fair were very expensive, but I'm not sure if that was because I had no money, or it was because the fair book prices were higher than their retail values. Regardless, it made me hate books. I think that students would benefit more from frequent trips to the school library, or even the town library, than attending book fair. I firmly believe that our school's huge effort to do school fundraisers and book fairs, over the tiny effort to indulge students in reading and writing, was one of the many reasons why our school consistently scored below-average in reading and writing on the state-run standardized tests.

I know the school profits from the Scholastic Book Fair, and I'm inclined to say that it should be about the students, not the profit. Then again, I also feel for teachers who are forced to work with a VERY small budget. It really sucked at times when our school didn't have enough money to buy little things, like chalk, paper, or even pencils, never mind textbooks. All these financial woes were partly due to frequent budget cuts on education and general poor financial management in our school district. But as a 7 year old elementary school student, I didn't know or understood any of this, I just felt bad for not being able to get the books I wanted to read.

I know there is a fine line between what is best for the kids and what is best to keep the school running efficiently, but maybe you should consider the long term effects of your decision. What has been done to the school's profit of past fairs? Could it be better applied? Kids hate subjects like math and reading because we, as adults, unknowingly put barriers up between them and the whatever they want to achieve. I remember growing up with other lower-income students, and we all hated reading, or sucked at reading, simply because we couldn't afford books. Forcing a poor kid to go to book fair with books they can't afford is only going to exacerbate those ill feelings.

I think it's horrible that some people here think that the fair is great idea because they think everyone benefits from it, even the low income students because they will get books through points earned from the fair. That's an absolutely false statement. If your school is lower-income as you say, than I'm assuming that middle or upper income students only make up a small population of the total student body, yet get the full benefit of the fair. They get to personally pick out a book that they want, buy it, and happily go home and read it.

Yet, the other 60% of the students, who can't buy afford expensive fair books, only get to benefit from maybe 30-40 random books the school earned using fair points. This just makes them more resentful.

Yes, I have a chip on my shoulder because I grew up in that kind of environment. However, I understand your school's need to profit in order to better the lives of your students. I don't think you should be feeling guilty about canceling the Scholastic Book Fair because you can do much better things with your time, like obtaining grant money to buy more books. Books can't be free all the time, but by setting up your own book fair using the grant money, you have maximum control over how you sell your books. Just remember that your goal is not only to benefit the school by making a profit, but also to benefit the student by encouraging them to read more. With your own fair, you'll have a lot options. You won't have to buy all hard cover books, you don't have to sell your books at overpriced values, plus you're still guaranteed to be earning a profit because you didn't pay for the books to begin with. If, for example, you sold popular books like Harry Potter or Clifford at $1 a piece, you'll absolutely sell bunch of them. Compare this with the $1 books they sell at the Scholastic Book Fair, which are typically on some unpopular subject or only have 10 pages of content total. This is why no one really buys the $1 books at the Scholastic Book Fair.

Food for though.
posted by nikkorizz at 8:05 AM on October 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

Now that I think about it, at my school, we had scholastic flyers, but I don't think we had book fairs. And our daycare does the ordering online. So maybe that would help relieve the poor-kids-walking-around-the-books issue?
posted by dpx.mfx at 12:12 PM on October 20, 2010

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