The Southern states are by far, way ahead in terms of fountain pen use. Pen turners too are easier to come by in these parts. Yet, none of the southern cities – Chennai, Bangalore, and Hyderabad included – have pen shows that they can call their own. New Delhi does not have one that it can call its own either, but that only bolsters the point that we are trying to make. And this, despite the long-standing demand of the local fountain pen lovers.
Point is, Pen Shows in India, in general, are basically buyer-seller meets as opposed to being Pen Shows, per se. Organised mostly by local businesses, they focus primarily on providing a platform from where the fraternity can touch base with the buyers and the aficionados. Naturally, the pecuniary motive is not only factored in but often gets the most attention with some organisers allegedly making a nice packet, often sacrificing the greater cause on the altar of Mammon, as many points out. They also point out the fact that since the pen shows are mostly one-man events, personal egos are coming into play in an unhealthy way, often leading to fratricidal events organised in cities that are not capable of handling two, leave alone a single annual show, creating more harm than good. And this, while some cities with thriving communities of pen lovers remain perched for a show.
The other point that is being underscored is that these shows are attracting only the diehard fountain pen collectors, and repeat visitors, which explains the gradually falling graph of sales. Without new footfalls, without new people attending the shows, and with the organisers doing precious little to attract new attendees, leave alone to expand the userbase of pen, paper, and ink users, the shows are mostly failing in their primary (read sworn) function of spreading the cult of the pen and ink. Naturally, there is an implosion, something that might not be apparent immediately but will certainly hurt everyone in the long run. “With everyone jumping on to the bandwagon and selling everything that they can turn out, no attention is being given to ensure that the market continues to grow, which may, for all that we know, turn out to be a flash in the pan” warned an industry veteran, “if we fail to take steps to expand the market, we will suffer a fate worse than what had befallen us in the 1990’s.” It will not be out of context to point out that the industry does not have a trade body representing its interests, with all the attendant lacuna that such an absence leads to.
From the point of view of the sellers too, things are beginning to look bleak. It takes a huge amount of resources, not to mention time and energy, to participate in any pen show. With actual sales most often than not failing to justify the participation, they are forced to mumble excuses about “brand visibility” to justify their participation. How long they will continue to flog the dead horse is anybody’s guess. “Where sellers, who are your dealers, organise shows, you have to be present and it ends up being a mere relation-building exercise,” said one brand owner who did not wish to be identified, “things get compounded when two of your dealers organise competing shows, in which case you are forced to attend both if only to placate them. Your losses mount, leading to wastage of resources that we can ill afford.”
The way out would be to have local pen lovers organize the shows, which is ruled out by most, who point out the fact that such strong bodies, either in terms of organising ability or in terms of resources, leave alone the willingness to run an event of such sort, are conspicuous by their absence. Besides, how much understanding such organisers will have about either the intricacies of the trade or the need of the sellers is also open to question. Finally, with the different managerial capabilities of the different organisers, not to mention their core focus, the quality of the shows has been seen to vary wildly from one venue to the other which is also causing a good amount of heartburn.
The solution to all these problems can be had if the industry comes together to create an umbrella brand that will not only produce a calendar of pen shows to be held around the country, but will also negotiate sponsorships with the major players both national and international. Local manufacturers, the pen-loving fraternity, and the like can be co-opted for their individual cities, who can contribute to the overall success of the respective shows. As such an entity can offer multiple shows to the sponsors as well as the vendors, better rates can be negotiated, costs can be curtailed, replication can be avoided and the surplus, so generated, can be used for the propagation of the cause of the pen and ink. And this can be done even after appointing professionals to perform most of the organisational work, thereby ensuring a high level of efficiency.
A pipe dream? Perhaps. Just remember, you read it here first.
Check this out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1GlGY0gaX34&t=4s