Most years I have no problem getting started on my annual diary, but this year is different. I'm not exactly sure why, but one issue is that so many people I see year after year just stayed home.
I came to New York with the expectation that we would be witnessing "the last picture show" of the venerable ABA/BEA trade show. The mood was depressing before the show and upon arriving it didn't change much. Of course the first person I ran into (walking up Madison Avenue) was Dan Poynter. We stopped into a small cafe, sat down, had some coffee, and talked about the industry.
Everyone knows that if you want to know you ask the man who knows... and Dan knows... except this time he didn't know... because no one could know just how the industry was going to change... except that it WAS going to change... and maybe not for the better. Anyway, we had a long talk and reached no discernible conclusion.
I had arranged to meet my old friend Claire Kirch for breakfast. She is a reporter for Publishers Weekly and covers the mid-west publishers. She lives in Duluth. I remember entering a contest where the first prize was a week in Duluth. The second prize was two weeks in Duluth! I've always loved Claire. She is funny, smart, and knows everyone in the book biz. We spent a couple of hours discussing how no one knows where this industry is headed!
Claire Kirch and the author
I spent the next couple of days at the PMA Publishing University. Yes, they changed the name to IBPA (no one is quite sure why) but to me it will always be PMA, although at times it has seemed more like PMS!
I had a nice chat with Florrie Kichler who contrary to popular opinion is NOT PMA President for Life... it just seemed that way. She has passed the torch to a new "victim" and I'm sure she will be happy to get back to just being a publisher... except wait... there's more! She is now on staff of PMA. I forget what her title is or what her job will be but these days just about all small publishers have to have an outside (steady) income. (FYI, I'm in the life/annuity insurance biz: InsuranceSolutions123 Agency.)
I was in the vendor exhibit area talking with the rep from Four Color Print Group, when a strange thing happened. A guy with an IBPA badge came up to me, and very rudely asked why I was there, what my purpose was, and that he wanted me to leave. This guy was off the wall with anger.
It turns out his name is Chris Kahn and recently sold advertising for Publisher's Weekly. He was hired by IBPA to be (get this!) in charge of VENDOR RELATIONS! Talk about the wrong man for the job. He had an "issue" with me over an editorial I wrote about PMA... almost THREE YEARS AGO. He had never bothered to call or write me and discuss it and just held all his anger in for all this time... and this was his chance to release it.
I don't get intimidated all that easily and I told him that I was a PMA "patron" in that I had just paid for the most recent vendor-to-publisher mailing that PMA sent out and I told him in no uncertain terms that I was staying and that if he didn't like it he could ... well... I won't use the exact words but those who know me will be able to connect those dots!
I had a good talk with the Cushing-Malloy gals. They have been printing books forever. They said that their business was way off the third and fourth quarters of last year but has started to rebound this year. You really have to wonder what happens to book printers when the whole industry goes digital. I know I am not buying stock in any print companies!
Talking about digital, I got a chance to see, hold, and play with an Apple iPad when I talked with Molly at PubServ. These folks do a number of pre-press services for publishers, including formatting for digital equipment. This much I can say for certain... the Apple iPad is a major game-changer. I'm a dyed-in-the-wool ink-on-paper reader. But after seeing the iPad I have no doubt that I will be buying one and using it as my reading weapon of choice... and so will you.
Another fixture of PMA's vender contingent is Phil Knight of Color House Graphics. They've been in business for what seems like a hundred and twenty years and know what they are doing and are nice people to do it with. Phil and I discussed what happens to firms like his when the world goes digital. Phil is on top of it... these folks will survive.
On Tuesday I went back up to the Roosevelt Hotel before the Ben Franklin Awards. I wanted to see what books were nominated and what the subjects and quality of them were. I remember twenty years ago when what as then called "self-published" books looked like crap. No longer. The graphics, the interiors, and the "fit and finish" of the hundred or so books on the nominating table were as good if not better than what comes out of the large corporate/conglomerate houses.
I didn't stay for the awards as I had to meet someone about our Jaya123 program. Every year Jaya123 gets more and more popular and it is always fun to run into members of the Jaya123 family. It's one of the few easy-to-use web-based programs that does not cost an arm and a leg to start-up or use monthly. What is interesting is that we get a lot of right-brained artists, designers, photographers, and similar types who simply can't use Quickbooks and who are not all that computer literate... but they can use a browser. Jaya123 is perfect for them.
And talking about artist-designers, before I left I ran into Mayapriya Long, an award-winning book designer who owns Bookwights Design. She would not let me take her pix. She has lost 15 pounds and looked great but simply didn't want to be pix'd! Of course one of the books she designed later won a Ben Franklin... so what's new about that?
I didn't attend any of the PMA classes this year but I heard really good reviews of them from those who paid the tuition. I was told that enrollment was down to about 250 this year. In the past the seminar always got 500+. Sign of the times... and the industry. If this is the last BEA, one wonders if PMA-U can exist as a "draw" on its own. I rather doubt it.
In past years you could feel the buzz, the excitement when you were on the convention bus which takes you to the Javitz Convention Center. People are all excited... it's like spring training in baseball... everyone thinks they have the big bestseller or break-out book or something that will separate them from the rest of the "clutter." Not so this year.
The bus was rather quiet. It was more like a hearse carrying a casket than a bus carrying a load of exuberant convention goers. I knew something was wrong when there were no copies of the "show daily" that were always on the buses of past BEAs. I guess that since Publisher's Weekly was sold, Reed E. (the folks who put on BEA) decided not to pay what it would cost for the extra copies for the buses.
Walking into the hall the first thing I noticed was that it was all on one floor. That means the show was at least 50% smaller than in the past. No surprise. What was a surprise was that even the main floor was not sold-out. There was a lot of space curtained off on both ends. I don't see how Reed E. can make money on this small amount of space.
I always start out in the small/independent press area and like previous years is was desolation row. Most people go to the large publishers first in order to grab whatever freebies are there before they are all gone. However, unlike previous years there were not many nice tote-bags or even galleys for the taking. Everyone is trying to cut costs.
The first person I ran into in the wide and mostly empty aisle was Marion Gropen who is the chief bean-counter of the book-biz. She is always a wealth of info on what's going on and she agreed with me that with the show being smaller it might be a money-loser for Reed E. and that it could be the "last round-up" here.
There are always a bunch of self-help books but I had not seen one centered on astrology in a long time... so when I met Rose Robertson and her infectious smile I thought that maybe she had a winner for her niche market. She is not the author, but if she is marketing this book it should do well.
I like illustrated children books when the author is the illustrator... and one of the best ones I saw was from a tiny press in Bronx, NY by Monique Duncan. She has big plans on branding her books with her style of art and I think she has a shot at it.
I walked around the aisle and saw a book that should be a huge seller if the author makes the effort. No More Dating Pigs! Now if that is not a title that will get on Oprah I don't know what is. Besides the author/publisher is plenty attractive so I bet the media will be all over this one. I thought this was a terrific title and if the content is any good it could possibly be the next Sex In The City miniseries on HBO.
Everyone wants to save money and everyone loves garage sales. In all the years of going to BEA I've never seen a book on garage sales until I found this one which claims you can become a millionaire with garage sales by showing you all the need-to-know information and insider tips to track down those hard to find treasures, hidden gems, and those collectible items which, upon resale, will make you money.... or something like that.
There were a lot of illustrated books at BEA... maybe because no one knows how to read anymore. One that caught my eye was the Peppermint Zebra by Rita Austin. She has a terrific style of art and her Fisherman's Cat was a success. Zebra will be better.
Book clubs have made a huge comeback with many celebs touting them. I thought the Bookclub-in-a-Box concept to be interesting. This company publishes discussion guides for both classic and contemporary literary fiction. They currently have over forty guides in print, which are available in physical form or as downloadable PDF files from their website. These guides make great tools for facilitating bookclub discussions, planning school presentations and more.
It wouldn't be a BEA without Irwin Zucker in the aisle talking to everyone who walks by. He is the consummate salesman and many publishers can attest to that fact as he has helped many hundreds of them get their books sold. With over 50 years in public relations, Irwin has promoted books and their authors from every genre and category. His first client was Norman Vincent Peale, and since then he has represented such luminaries as Steve Allen, Jacqueline Susann, Helen Gurley Brown,Zsa Zsa Gabor, Harvey Mackay, Burl Ives, Dinah Shore, Veronica Lake and many others. It's always nice to talk with him each year.
I'm not familiar with Matthew Stern but others in New York City are.. which is strange since he lives in Florida! He had his own booth and was showing a new book called Converted. I didn't see many indie novels that I think have a chance... but this one just might. You be the judge.
Not so many years ago there were several aisles of tech books. Not even one now. Indeed, the only tech book that I saw at the entire show was this one on PowerPoint. I hope it is a success because when I wear my insurance hat and have to go to meetings with companies they invariably show boring PPT slides... and maybe this book will help people eliminate the snooze-factor from this media!
"You deserve all the good things that life has to offer. Believe me when I say those good things are available to you right now. The only person stopping you is you. And that is no longer necessary anymore. You are an amazing person-no better or worse than any other person on this planet. Once you find your own connection with the Divine, you fully come into the space of knowing that you are not alone, and you never were" is what Emily Smith told me. I hope it is true!
Lots of books get testimonials. How about THIS one: "The Wisdom to Know the Difference is about being able to change. We human beings are basically the same, wherever we come from, and despite the small physical differences in the shape of our noses, the color of our hair and so on. We are the same because we all have the same potential to undergo both positive and negative experiences. What's more, we also have the same potential to transform ourselves and our attitudes. What is important is that we can make a change and transform ourselves into better, happier people."-His Holiness the Dalai Lama. That should sell the book.
I love this book. I just love it. It is the best book I saw at the show. They say the way to a man's heart is through his stomach, but women aren't so different. For her, it's not about the food, it's about the effort. To Romance, With Love is a complete guide to lighting the fire, and then keeping the spark. More than just your mother's cookbook, the book contains savory, fun-filled pages illustrated with 'love ammunition,' full-color photographs of each dish, pull-out menus and shopping lists, hints for a romantic night, and stories to make you smile and get you thinking. Each menu is titled with a romantic song to set the mood. I will buy this book. It is terrific. Check it out.
I love costumes and clowns and anything else that will help publishers at BEA stand out from the crowd. The two gals at KidsKnowIt Network won my award for the best polo shirts. Their books were very clever as well.
One of the best non-book items at the show was a game called Passing The Bar targeted at law students seeking to not flunk their state exams. This game will allow students to learn the graduate material required to pass the national state monitored bar exam in an enjoyable setting, and is also fun for students and trained professionals to test their skills. This is a good idea and I think this gal will make a fortune on this (yes, she is a lawyer. I hope she "defends" me.)
Some folks really trick out their booths but no one did it better than Abrams Books of New York. This is a huge publisher with a large list, but they keep a rather low profile... at least until now. Everyone and their dog came to take a pix of their giant typewriter. It was terrific!
I've never understood why we are not a nation of short story readers since we're always in a hurry. The folks at the Postmodern Library Books publish these tiny little books on a single subject... and their subjects are really off the wall. You should check these out. Their problem is that they don't understand that good covers help sell books... and their covers are... well... they don't really have covers... just ink on a blank background. I hope they "get it" before going out of business because it is a good idea if marketed properly.
I've held in the past and still hold that Midpoint Trade is the best distributor for the small and mid-size press. Not only do they get their publisher's books sold, they are nice folks to work with. I ran into my two favorite book-babes, Laurie and Julie at their booth. Of course they are concerned about where the middle channel goes when there are few if any physical books. As I see it, both Laurie and Julie can become models.
You've heard of the Twilight Zone? Welcome to the...
There was a section way off in what I think was New Jersey dedicated to digital vendors. There were a whole bunch of service bureaus offering to convert books to all of the reader-device formats. It reminded me of the days when we had to choose between Beta and VHS for VCRs. Eventually one format will win and all of these companies will be gone. About the best competitor to the Apple iPad was the Entourage Edge. This is a 2-screen device that lets you make all sorts of annotations to the books you read. I could see this being very popular in the academic market, but they need to get the price a bit lower and they need a color screen instead of "Kindle gray."
Since Harry Potter the fantasy genre has always been big at BEA and this year was no different. I like the genre because they almost always feature colorful booths with attractive girls to show off the books. The Last Princess was one example, there were a few others.
I don't know the first thing about fairies or anything about those who read this genre but I know there are a lot of people who do. Like the above, this was also a really nice tricked-out booth with a very attractive booth-babe, Camille Miller.
One of the more unique services that I came across was a company called RoyaltyShare. The service automates and tracks the import and normalization of revenue transaction data received from e-retailers, provides sophisticated tools for clearing transaction errors, aggregates the transactions into an output feed that can be customized for downstream royalty and ERP systems, and provides Web-based analytics to examine sales trends. The result is a highly scalable solution for book publishers now faced with processing and managing sales data from dozens, and potentially hundreds, of electronic retailers, book services, and distributors worldwide. If you are a publisher with revenue from a ton of different distribution sources, this might be an answer for you.
The second-best book I saw at the show was by Pamela Pease of Paintbox Press. She has created some of the best pop-up books for kids that I've ever seen. She did all the artwork herself and it is spectacular. She is being distributed by IPG which I don't think will do much if anything for her. Her website does not do her books justice so if you can find one of these (Especially the Macy's Parade book) at the bookstore... just buy it for some kid in your life... or for yourself. It is outstanding.
Edward Channon has been playing the bagpipes for over 35 years at weddings, parties, funeral, military function and a myriad of other gatherings. He wrote this book, Ballad of a Bagpiper, to share the funny stories and things he observed while at these events. I don't know if he will sell any, but it was fun to listen to him play.
Last year at BEA I saw what I thought was a very promising book called Be The Media, and lo and behold it turned out to be a hit. David Mathison has sold a ton of this tome and I'm sure he will continue to do so. He is a gracious man who understands that everyone he meets might help him sell a book. Unlike many in his field, he is warm, open, and friendly to all. Buy his book.
MerryMakers has been around for almost 20 years and I always like to see their stuffed animal toys. Who else would make Walter the Farting Dog Doll (not pictured below) and a book to match (see this link). I've always promised to mention them and I never have. Now it's done.
There were not a whole lot of foreign publishers at this year's show, but like last year there was one monster non-US booth... Saudi Arabia. It was empty.
No one home when I was there
Every year there are a ton of what are called "sidelines." This is the non-book stuff that are sold in bookstores... and which probably have better profit margins than the books! This year, hardly any were to be seen. But there was this one game-toy made up of magnetized ball-bearings that were fun to play with. I don't know why they called them Buckeyballs.
I walk around a corner and see a long line of people waiting to get an autograph. I then see this poster for Sarah Palin's book. I didn't remember seeing anything about her being at the show so I asked someone and they said "READ the poster carefully." And then I got it. You should read the title closely too. These two writers gave a ton of autographed copies away. I loved the book's subtitle: "Sarah Palin: An American Nightmare"
I always look for business books, and like computer books, there were few to be found. However, the ones I did find all came from one publisher... Entrepreneur (same folks who publish the magazine.) When I think about how the Internet has killed off so much of non-fiction publishing, I'm glad to see these folks have survived so far.
At so many booths you would see authors or publishers or who knows who talking with each other... and someone like me would walk up (with a press badge) and just be ignored. You can't believe how many times this happens. They just don't get it. Well one person did. I walked by a booth and this young gal saw my badge and basically dragged me into her booth to show me a non-fiction financial expose called Financial Serial Killers. By using true tales of thieves, swindlers, and fraudsters at work, the book illustrates how these perpetrators get their hooks into investors' wallets, savings accounts, and portfolios—and never let go. I asked if she was the publisher. She said she was the publicist. No wonder she "got it." There are a lot of publishers who could learn from her.
There used to be tons and tons of travel book and map publishers at BEA. Not this year. They all caught the last train for the coast. The best one I saw was travel "packs" targeted to kids. These were very clever and if marketed well they will do well.
Talking about marketing there were several publicists who took booths this year. Each year I see some two-woman company who have a nice looking booth and who look like they will do a good job... and they are out of business in six months. Well, I am sure that Smith Publicity will be around as they are rather large.
Finally, as I was leaving the show I found the most interesting non-book, non-intellectual item. It is called a Zoobie and it is a animal which is a pillow but when you un-zip it, it contains a blanket. These are terrific and I'm sure will be a hit with moms all over the world.
The one question that everyone was asking: Is this the last BEA?
It will depend on whether or not Reed E. makes any money on it, if they can at least sell the same amount of space next year as this year, and if they can fill the floor with either book buyers or media.
The aisles of the large publishers were crowded but that's because there were fewer of them so everyone crowded into the same place. However, the lesser booths on either side of the center were not crowded and the small publishers and the digital services on the far ends were desolate. (Look at the pix's in this piece and see how empty some of the aisles are!)
Reed has some options:
1. They could sell the show, similar to how they sold Publishers Weekly.
2. They could open the show to the public for a couple of days.
3. They could move it to a less expensive venue than Javits/NYC.
Right after the show they put out a press release saying that BEA would go back to the 3-day format next year, but would still be mid-week. I'm not prone to believe any of that because it stands to reason that such an analysis would be made much later after looking at some of the metrics.
I thought that the show was well-attended... at least the booths of the large houses were crowded. But is the trade-show business-model still a cost-effective paradigm for them? In the final analysis it will be the industry, not Reed E. who determines if there is going to be another BEA. I think there will be at least one more... or at least I hope so.
If you liked this special edition of A Saturday Rant or if you disagree or if you have changes to be made, please let me know by writing to: rant at adams-blake dot com.