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Well, fair readers, another Book Expo America is behind us.
As far as Book Expos go, this one was neither the best nor the worst I have ever attended.
Just the most crowded.
(As it always is in NYC–preliminary figures have attendance at 30,000, up from 22,366 in DC last year. It felt like a deodorant commercial directed by Busby Berkeley.)
For those of you who do not know the history of this show, once upon a time it was run by the American Bookseller’s Association (ABA), and it was the place where publishers went to share their fall lists with booksellers. At a certain point it got too unwieldy for ABA, and it made more sense to let Reed Business take it over. (They are behind a ton of major trade shows, including Comicon and the NY Anime Show.) However, more has changed over the years than just who was running it.
I always find BEA to be a little trippy. On one hand, you have the super-swanky mega-booths from the major publishers, complete with Saturday afternoon cocktail service and leather couches to rest your weary behind. (To give you some sense of the cost—it will run you $45.00 to rent a folding chair at this show.) Free autographed first editions run like wine, and many will end up on ebay before the day is out. On the other hand, you have would-be published authors trying all kinds of guerrilla marketing techniques on innocent passers-by.
My favorite of this year was a woman who asked me to auction off her book–written with her mom about a mouse and some cheese–from the podium of my industry dinner on Friday. In return she would write ABC a check for $5,000. I was so flabbergasted at the audacity and inappropriateness of the request, it was all I could do to wrap my lips around the word NO. She felt that “donating” her book was no different than the artists who had donated their work to the ABC auction.
Lord save me from all of the other authors who would also like to “donate” their books to publishers. These conversations always start off benignly enough, and then take a turn for the worse with the following sentence: “I have a children’s book, and I was wondering…”. Pretty soon you’re caught in a conversation about cats, goats, or grandchildren, and someone is handing you some color xeroxes. (Listen up, those of you who want to write. Don’t let your passion get in the way of good manners.) Don’t get me wrong. I spend a lot of time talking to would-be authors, and I feel for them because they have obviously poured their hearts into their projects. Like all those salmon trying to get up stream, only a few are going to get to reproduce.
But I digress.
Ostensibly, BEA is still supposed to be about the booksellers, and ABA is still prominently involved, but if I had to say what the show is really about, I would say it’s about publishers showing off for other publishers and for the industry at large. This show used to be about selling books, but that is less and less important. Because of pressure from the chains and big box stores for earlier and earlier schedules, the big deals are made elsewhere these days. Booksellers are becoming marginalized in terms of how the show floor operates. Unlike other major book shows like the American Library Association (ALA) or the International Reading Association (IRA), there are relatively few books on display and a lot of smoke and mirrors. (See Alison Morris’ excellent post at PW for more on this.)
It’s a little bit like Oz in that respect.
It is the premier networking event in publishing, and there are some very swanky parties. It is also the place where you can do the best celebrity stalking outside of LA. (Ohmygosh! Next year it will be in L.A.–those of you with celebrity life-lists better make your plans.) As the percentage of books sold through bookstores gets smaller, this show will continue to become less about frontline booksellers, and even more self-referential. Like a snake eating its tale, I wonder where this is heading.
In the meantime, grab those canapes and run.