Last week was Book Expo of America/BookCon week. A busy time for many of us in the industry, but particularly for trade publishers and the marketing/publicity departments. There's been a few posts about this year's conventions, notably how Book Expo felt smaller (it really was) and also whether it's worth the investment for self-published and independent authors (the answer isn't looking positive).
This may have been my 8th or my 10th Book Expo. I've been going every year it's in NYC since 2003 when possible as a volunteer, then as a blogger and press, and on occasion a vendor would sponsor employees of the press I worked for allowing us certain "perks" which really meant a separate room to be in away from the larger crowds and perhaps some items to nosh on.
As the years have gone on I've seen much shrinkage in the offerings and exhibitors of Book Expo and that was incredibly visible this year on the main floor where larger and mid-sized publishers could afford large displays. This meant more aisle space and I also noticed less foot traffic, which is good for wheelchair users or those with cans to maneuver around without worrying about bumping into someone or being squished/trampled at a moments giveaway. But it also means less visibility for smaller presses and I noticed the absence of more international outlets and vendors on the main floor. Whether they're not allowed to join as exhibitors or the overall costs was seen as unnecessary I am unsure. The organizers of Book Expo don't exactly let us in on the details in this regard.
Did I enjoy Book Expo this year? Very much so because of the more open space and smaller crowds that weren't stifling or claustrophobic. Another attendee and I joked that the fact that the bathroom lines (for the ladies room) were short and went fast was a tell-tale sign for all of us. It meant I could find publishers more easily because they bought the space, but it also felt that some stages (like the Downtown Stage) were tucked away in Nowheresville unless you branched away from the larger publishers and their constant signings/giveaways. I missed the 9am and 12pm rushes because I was too busy wandering and the amount of panels is often so far away from the main hall and don't go beyond some intro items that they may not be worth attending. In years past there were overlapping conferences for Bloggers as well as Digital Media. These have ceased with perhaps a panel or two attempting to fill that new gap. I remember when there was a cookbook expo where you got food samples form the cookbook authors there doing demos and signings. I remember when the autograph area was downstairs along with some publishers and a good amount upstairs meaning you had to plan accordingly to get to desired signings in-booth or autograph area. I remember when the press room kept refilling their treats in the morning and the afternoon before dwindling down to one tray then to candies in a bowl and a water cooler that wasn't even refilled over the course of the day. I remember when press included bloggers until that one year when all hell broke loose once the gauntlet was thrown down. So what else has Book Expo pulled back on and invested in?
Well the first thing is BookCon, while organized somewhat by separate people they are both under the ReedPop umbrella. Where Book Expo is the trade show for industry professionals (librarians, booksellers/book buyers, authors, reviewers) BookCon is for the consumer and they want you to consume (e.g., very little is free so make sure to ask). BookCon encourages a different dynamic in terms of the conversation and presentation. You'll see more celebrities and be asked to plunk down more bucks. Book Expo will have their Main Stage celebrity events but they'll also have more industry-specific discussions (a highlight was the WNDB Apologies panel on Friday afternoon organized by author Alex Gino). Where vendors for book packagers and printers as well as digital/epub conversion were a staple in the past they were all but gone meaning you may well have to hoof it to another conference to find them if you're not already familiar with the options out there.
In Warner's HuffPost piece she mentions the expectation for exhibitors to not only pay for time at Book Expo but also BookCon to gain visibility on the main floor, which means...you guessed it more cash. The prices for registration for incrementally increased though it doesn't look as though the amount of tickets available was tightened at all. Though, it was for freebies in the case of no more adjoining digital expo.
When it comes to Book Buzz events this are eye grabbers for reviewers and others to see what the publisher is highlighting, but guess what more times than not those highlighted books for Adults, Young Adults, and Middle Grade readers are tied to the Big 5. Yes, the Big 5 have numerous imprints within the larger entity but that doesn't dismiss that the largest book show in the United States seems to cater to the conglomerates.
At BookCon publishers were selling more books in their booths than before and signings as always were unclear if you should purchase at the designated bookstore or if it was free for ARCs or finished books.
The App was pretty much useless and also not at all intuitive. "Learn" was basically the function to find the panels you wanted to go to. Say what now?! Also if you saved everything in your online account that you registered on BEA/BookCon's respective sites it did not transfer to the app. A friend of mine did a screenshot of her choices just so she didn't have to keep accessing the app itself. I made a list of things beforehand and utilized the website mostly.
I have to admit that BookCon is not really my bag. I enjoy the more focused atmosphere of Book Expo and also, for the most part, the crowds are more familiar with the layout and a bit more controlled. It tends to be focused, at least it was, on the authors not so much the celebrities though there was always a couple, now that number has grown especially those featured in the Main Stage. BookCon has focused on the NYT bestsellers, YouTubers and Stage/Screen celebrities turned authors. It's also better for kids in that there'll be some things to offer them but I don't know how advantageous an event like BookCon is for reluctant readers but am always glad to see kids meet their idols and be encouraged to pick up a new book to read and hopefully love. Also because BookCon is more consumer based it means that the big dawgs reign and not so much the smaller publishers or the more literary organizations. They become irrelevant and also invisible even if they do have space in the main area.
There was note of less bookstores especially the Barnes & Nobles chains and Amazon's new brick & mortar stores being the 4th largest chain at 13 nationwide--yup, that's pretty sad. Sales are up in some areas, namely YA/kids lit and slightly down in adult and education. The industry will always chug always chug along but will Book Expo continue to shrink and serve as a pregame for BookCon ultimately becoming obsolete or will we return to past "glory" with more on the floor in terms of variety? I think, for me at least, I'd love to understand the aim of the more concentrated focus and see it benefit a bigger spectrum of publishing rather than those who can afford the illuminate booths and expansive square footage. While the size has steadily condensed over the past 15 years, especially at Javits, we've seen new ways to try and navigate crowds to the point this year where it seemed very manageable. This can be deceiving in some ways but also a relief in others.
BEA/BookCon will be at Javits in NYC again for 2018. Whether it'll be a mirror of this year or a new take remains to be seen, but we'll see how this goes and hope to see a lot of authors celebrated, not just the ones who have movie deals.