Fountain Pen Shows – the season of plenty or one too many?
The economic indicators are going south as if there is no tomorrow. Jobs are being lost. Farmers are committing suicides. The Core Sector indices are falling with ceaseless abandon and even the most “optimistic” agree, however grudgingly, that things are not as hunky-dory as the powers that be would want us to believe.
Naturally, these are not the best of times to buy fountain pens. “Naturally” because, fountain pens are not a necessity any more, and economic prudence insists that their acquisitions be delayed, at least till such time that one has disposable, surplus income in one’s hands. Besides, even to the handful of passionate fountain pen collectors – who constitute what we call the “industry” – acquiring a fountain pen, now, when the economic condition leaves so much to be desired, is surely a luxury one can ill afford.
That brings us to the next question that is begging an answer: how do we then justify the string of Pen Shows that are lined up between now and March?
More importantly, do these Pen Shows make any sense, whatsoever? And if they do, to whom?
Take the oxymoron called Indian Pen Manufacturer. He has to pay a Queen’s ransom to book a table at the show (I’m told that tables cost here more than what they do in Europe and the USA). Then take care of the logistics – boarding, lodging and stuff like that. Hire people to man the counters. This, in addition to the time and effort put in to prepare a stock of pens for the show. Does he recoup the money and time put in to be present in a show? Well, honestly speaking, yes and no. Yes, if we are talking about one Pan India show where the footfalls and business generated would, at the lest, lead to a break even. No, if it happens to be the n-th show, where the sellers outnumber the buyers.
But what about the distributors and dealers, especially of global brands? Are they the ones looking forward to attend every show? If you ask them to cross their hearts and tell you the truth, they too will answer in the negative. The market surely does not have enough depth to sustain all of them, the shows that is. The fundamentals are just not there, however bitter the truth may sound.
But why have things come to such a pass? Well, for one because of our herd mentality, which ensures that when it rains pen shows in India, like everything else, it pours. We just had shows in Pune and Ahmedabad. And now we have two more lined up, Ahmedabad and in Mumbai within the first three months next year. Surprising, considering the fact that both Gujarat and Maharashtra are known more as worshippers of Lakshmi than of Sarashwati. Even more surprising considering the fact that the eastern, southern, central or the northern parts of India are “unaffected” by the fever.
Okay, so there will be opportunities galore – industry insiders will get the priceless opportunity of hobnobbing with business partners, both potential and otherwise, and network like never before. Handwriting experts will showcase their talents. Pen lovers will browse through the tables. Members of the families and friends, of those taking up stalls, will add to the crowd with their typical disenchanted demeanour. The odd reporter from the media will ask irrelevant questions even as the doting PR person will smile from ear to ear to impress the client. But little else will be achieved – like the booming stock market that is not reflecting the fundamentals, the shows too will create a lot of noise that won’t be music to anybody’s ears.
Will they contribute to making fountain pens popular again? Will they help improve the art of handwriting? Will more young people break out from the abyss of their digitally damned lives and pick up the fountain pen? Will the industry benefit in the long term? Will the events drive the kind of sales that would make participation worth the trouble? Will the Pen Shows help push the hobby of fountain pen collecting up by a few notches? Will they help fountain pen collecting shed its elitist tag and create a wider base for itself? Will they help the Indian fountain pen manufacturer break the Chinese hegemony? Only time will tell, for at this juncture we can only surmise about the outcome.
Point is, why are these shows being held, that too in such regular frequencies, if the odds are stacked obviously so heavily against them?
The answer is in the social media. The cahoots who cheer and shower emoticons have obviously done so good a job, that Don Quixote is ready to wage the crusade to obliterate the windmills. That in the process the fountain pen is being made the victim, is something that obviously does not cross the mind of the perpetrators. Yes, by holding one show too many, we are in fact, killing the goose that lays the golden pens!