Wednesday, December 16, 2015

An Open Letter to Theme and Plugin Developers: Why I Can't Buy Your Products Any Longer

Web designers like myself rely on our theme and plugin vendors (like you) who have many excellent products I want to buy, and in the past I did buy them, many of them, and would continue to. 

But now I can't.

Many of you rely on web designers for a large portion of your revenue base.

If I can't buy from you, how are you going to remain in business?

Up to about eighteen months ago premium (i.e. paid for, not free) WordPress additions (themes and plugins) were sold with a one-time fee perpetual license for updates and support. 

But today, a large number of products are no longer sold, they are rented and buyers have to pay a yearly 'update' fee, often the same amount as the first purchase.

Some vendors give us unlimited use but require a yearly fee for updates. 

But there are others that restrict us to using the product on one site and requires a yearly update fee for each install. 

This just does not work for us!

In the past, our web design company ( as well as others would buy lots of premium themes and plugins. But we can't do that anymore. We can't take what could become a large financial liability for many dozens of yearly rental (ransom) payments.

Yes, it might be possible for us to buy a license for our clients and put the yearly payments on their backs, but not only is that an administrative hassle on the front-end of the sale, clients don't want to be 'captive' to vendors anymore than we do.

While some vendors offer a 'developer' license, it is usually fairly expensive... and we especially don't want to pay you for that when we are not sure that your product will be continued or that we will continue to use it should better solutions present themselves in the market... or that your company will even be around next year!

Here are the four dirty little secret fears that web design shops don't tell you:

Our  FIRST biggest fear is that we believe theme and plugin developers will put version-checking code into their products such that when WordPress updates to a new version, the theme or plugin will not work until the site owner pays the ransom for an "upgrade."

The SECOND biggest fear is that the vendor will "cable-TV" us with a low teaser first-time license fee and then double it or triple it (or worse) at license renewal time. 

The THIRD biggest fear (a corollary of the first)  is that vendors will eventually put in code that if the license is not renewed the product stops working... and the famous 'white screen of death' is the result. 

And the FOURTH biggest fear is that developers will put out updates with features our clients have no need of... or worse... they take away features they like.... or the vendor doesn't upgrade anything... they just collect the fee. 

These would not be illegal events; there are no laws that I know of that require disclosure (especially from non-USA or non-EU vendors.)

Yes, perhaps market forces and community "awareness" would mitigate the above, but it hasn't done so with the cable-TV industry, cell-phone service providers, or the oil/gas sector. I have little faith in the so-called 'free market' anymore. 

We used to buy many themes and plugins for clients, especially from vendors who gave us unlimited use of the product as well as updates. But now the paradigm is shifting to one-payment, one-site, with a yearly payment requirement for updates. 

(Note, I'm not mentioning support here because I think that can and should be a separate issue... my bet is that good designers hardly ever require on-going email or phone support. I believe the consensus is that 20% of the buyers are the creators of 95% of the support tickets. Support could be charged on a fee-per-ticket basis, like Apple does.) 

So, while I like  the products of many developers, I can't put my company in the position of being held hostage by them, at least not while I have options.

Will I pay the yearly costs for Microsoft Office or the Adobe suite? Yes. Why? Because I have to... until Word files are not the de facto standard and until there is an alternative graphic suite, I'm trapped. 

But I have alternatives with WordPress... they may not the best alternatives, but the developer community has basically forced them on me and other small design shops. 

I now need to find cost-effective solutions with either open-source no-cost products or those that offer a license that has far less financial risk to our company and our clients. 

Please understand. I know that developers need a revenue stream to create new or better products. But I don't think the current paradigm of 'ransom-ware' is the answer, at least not in the long-term.

I think most design shops would like to see some changes.

The first and most important change and one which I think is mandatory is that vendors guarantee that their product will always be supported... that the version the customer buys will run (be supported or replaced) forever WITHOUT any yearly fees. However, if the customer wants support and/or upgrades to newer versions, they need to pay for them. 

This gives designers the peace of mind that the products they put on/in client sites are not going to 'die' with a WordPress update or on a non-renewal. Designers cannot live with the threat of becoming a hostage and having to pay what the underworld calls 'protection.'

Developers could also offer a license option of yearly renewals for support and updates for those customers who will always want the latest and greatest version. 

Perhaps developers could offer a multi-year license with a refund if the product is discontinued? (And we all know how many designers have bought an expensive 'developer license' only to see the product (or company) disappear (a month or year later.)

Let me say it again for emphasis. I used to buy many themes and even more plugins. I can't and won't do it if I'm going to be put at risk of being held hostage for a 'ransom' payment each year. 

I'm not even going to take a chance on products from most new companies. If I'm going to have to pay 'tribute' it will be to those companies who have been around for years and years and have a track record seeking feedback on what their customers would like to see in the next version, and then incorporating these' updates, instead of just 'fluff' code.

If you are a new vendor with a new theme or plugin and you come to me saying "Buy my product for $50 now and $50 a year thereafter" I'm simply not going to bother with you. 

And if you are an established vendor, you need to sell me on what your roadmap for the product is; that you are going to incorporate features that are worth the yearly update fee.

The days of design shops like mine buying hundreds of themes and plugins each year are over. 

I don't think that is good for us or the theme/plugin developer community. A good business 'deal' has to be 'win-win.' The new "pay us now AND pay us later" looks like a win for the developers, but I believe that except for a few very well-run companies, it will become a loss. 

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Oh Cry Me a River, Steve

[Note: Steve Litt wrote a post that appeared in one of the book publishing chat boards. The discussion was about Apple's launchd program vs. what Linux uses to start up and schedule programs to run. No, this is not really about launchd... it is about how the Linux community is the Republican Party of the computer world. He writes:]

Process Identifier 1 (PID1) [in Apple's OS X] contains an entire XML
parser. Who knows, maybe next version the Ghost Of Jobs will add a
marching band to PID1.

Oh cry me a river, Steve.

Jeez, Louise. That’s the best you got?

Well, it’s not enough, not hardly.

PID1 is the launchd program which is far and away a huge, huge, huge improvement over the (Linux/Unix) antiquated cron (which Apple still has but does not use) as well as the arcane init system.

Cron is the utility that can be configured (if you know 'voodoo') to schedule and start programs.

From a user standpoint launchd is the cron replacement utility Apple uses to start (and stop) various programs that it needs to run at various times and it is user configurable as well (like cron.)

You can 'program' launchd to run your 'jobs'... such as nightly backups or uploads to your server, etc.

Of course you need 'scripts' that actually do the work, but there are lots of these on the net you can get and then configure launchd to run them when you want. We have a bunch of scripts that upload files to our server as well as download a few as well. For example, one of them takes the Apple Contacts, converts it to a text file and uploads it to our server as a backup... each night.

The launchd daemon essentially replaces the old Unix/Linux:
  • init
  • rc
  • init.d script
  • rc.d script
  • SystemStarter (OS X)
  • inetd / xinetd
  • crond / atd
  • watchdogd

Since the dawn of time no one but unbathed, sugar inebriated geeks could figure out how to use the cron utility as well as all of the other arcane geek-ninja-only 'init' group of systems.

Cron and its partner programs are some of the most complex black-arts of Unix/Linux, the secrets of which are only handed down from master-geek to grasshopper-geek in Linux User Group (LUG) meetings held in Pizza Hut restaurants serving bad pizza and over-caffeinated cola.

There are lots of articles on launchd vs. the antiquated array of obtuse Linux utilities you can read here.

Apple created launchd and even put it in the public domain thinking that the Linux folks would have the required brain cells to adopt it. Of course, the Linux community which years ago (as often today) were/are basically the Luddites of the computer world (sounds like a contradiction in terms, but not if you know the Linux mindset imbued with antipathy against anything new and better) refused to adopt it.

Big surprise!

A little history, courtesy of Wikipedia:

A port to FreeBSD was done as part of Google Summer of Code Project in 2005.

The Ubuntu Linux distribution considered using launchd in 2006. launchd was rejected as an option because it was released under the Apple Public Source License.

In August 2006, Apple relicensed launchd under the Apache License, Version 2.0 in an effort to make adoption by other open source developers easier.

It took  the Linux community, which hates all things Apple and Microsoft, a long time to 'get it' that launchd was a better system. But when they did, they instead decided to write their own version of launchd which is called systemd… and ever since the release of it, there has been a holy war waged in the Linux community over its use… and those flavors of Linux which have adopted it (which are most of the more popular distributions,) are shunned by the high-priests of Linux...  the Druids and troglodytes of the computer ‘world.’

They kept cron intact (like Apple did) but added systemd/timers as a replacement (it's not a bad system, but not quite as flexible as launchd, IMO.)

Launchd is based on XML, which adds a layer of complexity to it, but at the same time exposes many layers of flexibility.

Years ago I wrote a well-received and popular tutorial on launchd called: Apple Mac OS X launchd For The Complete Idiot.

Since that article was published several easy-to-use front-end utilities have been written… the best of which is called Lingon which makes it slam-dunk easy to schedule any program or script that you might want to run.

Yes, we can use the old cron, but Apple has deprecated it which is their way of saying “One day we may drop it, so use the new ‘stuff’ instead.” And the Apple community, being the Jefferson and de Vinci personas of the computer world, have adopted it and are happy with it, for the most part (yeah, there are a few Luddites in the Apple world as well, but they are more a curiosity than a majority.)

I have great respect for Steve Litt, his writing ability, his tech knowledge and the content of his many technical books (even though his web site looks like it was done in 1997!) But at times he is the Ted Cruz, the Huckabee, and the Heritage Foundation of the tech community all rolled into one… and there are many like him who start their LUG meetings with cold pizza and Jolt cola singing that old arch-conservative Linux ‘spiritual:’

Old stuff is good
New stuff is crud
Let’s all beat our feet
On the Mississippi mud

One day, a leader will rise up in the Linux community and say “I have a dream!”

I doubt it will be in my lifetime.

I like and respect most Linux people... and I run Linux on some of my older hardware. I like to kid Linux people about their hoodies and Jolt cola, just as they rib me about my Apple 'uniform'... NorthFace jackets and black "Steve Jobs" mock-turtles.

But for the life of me I'll never comprehend the amount of anger that some members of the Linux community hold for anyone who dares differ with them... sort of like those in the Republican Party.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

A Case for the "Less is More" Website Platform

[On well-known  Pub-Forum publishing chat group, a well-respected publisher and consultant was critical of our upcoming "Less is More" (LIM) website 'platform' (see and this is my reply. I will only use the author's initials so as not to identify said person.]

JM, as usual, makes an interesting argument. She come across to me as a traditionalist and there is a place for her in the book publishing industry if for no other reason than most authors as well as most publishers don't see the business as it is today and will be in the future, but view it as it was twenty or thirty years ago. 

There is no industry that I can think of (except maybe the taxi cab industry) that is and has been more resistant to change, be it technical or structural, than that of publishing. 

JM says "Most authors except first-timers have more than one book and want to build a following that (ideally) will buy all of them... " I agree but the harsh reality is that if the first one does NOT sell, most often there is not going to be a second!

JM says "No offense, but one-page, five-section site simply can't do everything..." and she is correct, but one does not have to do 'everything’ only has to do ONE thing... and that is SELL the book.

As you all know I have the ability, knowledge, and experience to write a 20,000 word, detailed, and very convincing argument refuting JM and her traditionalist approach to bookselling... but I won't. 

It won't change any minds... and to be honest most of the subscribers to this board are not in my  target market to begin with... there are not a lot of newbie authors-cum-publishers here... most are in the Yahoo based Self-Publishing group.

Here is the "tl;dr" version. 

I only know and concentrate on what works. That does not mean I know everything that works... I only know what I know that works. I also know what does not work (most of the time.) This is not a benefit of knowledge or clairvoyance... but one of age and experience… almost to the extent of Pat Bell… whom I’m told has an autographed copy of the original Ten Commandments.

Small sites work the same way that short novels work... many (most) readers LIKE them. A small site makes one convincing pitch to a surfer who has the attention-span of a gnat. 

There are places for longer sites... such as if you are selling something complex and big-ticket... like a car or a camera or a washing machine. 

But a book is not complex. It is a rather simple product. 

The key for all non-fiction and genre fiction is to find the audience and convince them to buy the book you have to sell to them. The faster and simpler you make the pitch the better your odds of making the sale. 

You don't need a 10 to 20 page website to do that. I contend that if you don't do it in the first paragraph about the book (or the author) the sale is probably lost. 

The web today reminds me of the 'scene' in Alice's Restaurant when Arlo is arrested and then taken to court for dumping trash down a cliff. 

They took twenty seven eight-by-ten colour glossy photographs with circlesand arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one explaining what eachone was to be used as evidence against us.

Man came in said, "All rise." We all stood up,and [sheriff] Obie stood up with the twenty seven eight-by-ten colour glossypictures, and the judge walked in sat down with a seeing eye dog, and hesat down, we sat down. Obie looked at the seeing eye dog, and then at thetwenty seven eight-by-ten colour glossy pictures with circles and arrowsand a paragraph on the back of each one, and looked at the seeing eye dog.And then at twenty seven eight-by-ten colour glossy pictures with circlesand arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one and began to cry,'cause Obie came to the realization that it was a typical case of Americanblind justice, and there wasn't nothing he could do about it, and thejudge wasn't going to look at the twenty seven eight-by-ten colour glossypictures with the circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of eachone explaining what each one was to be used as evidence against us. 

When it comes to a book, people are just not going to look a the "twenty seven eight-by-ten colour glossy pictures with the circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one explaining what each one was."

They used to look... but most don't anymore... especially younger people.

Bottom line, what traditionalists like JM preach, makes logical sense, but basically does not work anymore. How do I know? Jeez Louise, I've been doing long-form websites for years now. Our clients have come to us and said "We don't need it. People read one page of the site and go to Amazon to buy... or they don't.” 

This is what authors and publishers tell me. Why would I make it up? 

Don't you think we make more money on a 15 page site that we charge $1500 - $2000 for than a 5 page site for $399? Of course we do. But authors can't afford that and even if they could, they are going to Facebook instead of us (FB does not work either... but the price is right!)

We've researched this short-form concept for a long time. Some of you who are consultants to the industry know that I've been talking to you for over a year on this getting professional feedback. I've been on this board asking for peer-review of our templates as well as the concept in general. I didn't 'invent' this concept... I'm following what our customers are telling us here... not leading. (FYI, most people on this board agree with JM and/or don’t like our templates.)

We are going to formally roll out our “Less is More” (LIM) platform during the holidays... between Thanksgiving and New Year. (Why? Traditionalists say its a 'bad time' for 'new' stuff. But the publishing biz is 'dead' during the holidays, authors are not writing... everyone is taking a breather... I won't have to fight through as much clutter... and may even get more electronic 'ink' in the blogosphere than later on.)

To many authors it is all about price. They don't 'grock' the LIM concept yet. What they see is that they can get a site for $399 that will sell their first (and for some, ONLY) book. 

Most of our market are not authors who WANT to be publishers... they simply want to get their book 'out there' and make a side-income from it via selling it from their kitchen table or via Amazon (and Amazon/Smashword is the better approach because selling via mail-order entails more costs than are apparent.)

My market are new authors as well as publishers who 'get it'... one book... one domain... one website. 

Same with small one-person service businesses. Would you buy insurance from this guy?

Bottom line:
  • A domain cost $19 (you can pay less, but we recommend a year.
  • A host cost $65 a year (we are going to host our client's sites soon but now suggest
  • The LIM site cost $399 ... what you see from the template is what you get... we change colors.)

Who can’t afford that?

With your own domain for the title and with your own site for the title and with a one-file site (even though they look like separate pages... they aren't) for the title you get better SEO as well as loading speed.  graphic depending.

 (And we know HOW to optimize graphics… after all the owner of Bookwrights Design, Mayapriya Long, is my partner in this… of course we know graphics, composition, design, and color.) 

If the client can write good content the search engine web crawlers will find it easily. If they can’t, we can help them with it (for an extra fee, obviously.

No doubt, JM believes my approach is wrong. She would never say that, but I believe that was the intent of her posting. 

And she my be right. 

All I know for certain is that her approach to the web is costly, cumbersome, lengthy, inefficient, and bottom line, does not work all that well. I know this as a publisher, I know this as a technologist, I know this as an experienced marketeer.

But there is another dynamic working here. Just about everyone in the publishing business, like JM, have told that the LIM concept is… crap ... and wont’ work.

Well, after being in this biz for 35 years (after reading Dan Poynter’s ‘little red book,') I’ve leaned that there is one and only one certainty about the publishing business: that when everyone agrees on something, it's always wrong... always. 

Of course people say that about me too... and there is some truth in that. I have an award-plaque given to me years ago that says just below my name:

"Often wrong... but never in doubt!”

Alan N. Canton, Managing Partner 
NewMedia Create

"Short (and affordable) websites 
because on the web today… Less is More."

Saturday, August 29, 2015

"I Feel Ripped" (Da da da da da da da!) By Overnight Prints! (Da da da da da da da!)

Remember the old song by James Brown called “I Feel Good?” 

I have a new 'take' on it:

I Feel Ripped” (Da da da da da da da!)
By Over Night Prints (Da da da da da da da!)

…. although technically I wasn’t.

I needed new biz cards for my insurance agency since I changed direction and decided to only write Medicare coverage. 

So I shopped around looking at designs and settled on one by

I opened an account, designed the card, and paid (via AMEX) $22 plus shipping of $17 for ***500*** cards:

The next morning I got an email ‘blast’ from them about a huge sale... 

where they were offering *** 5000*** cards (yeah, FIVE THOUSAND) for $30.

Wow… that is a HUGE deal compared to what I paid!

I wrote them and asked if they would give me the sale price because I’m sure they knew a day in advance that there would be a sale… and that it would be a ‘nice’ thing for them to do. 

I told them I'd blog about their decision as well as comment on it on FB and LI, etc., and that this COULD be good publicity for them. 

They didn't see it that way. 

They got real snarky... and defensive. 

My guess is that they have had this issue arise before. 

They wrote back:

Now I guess I could have refused delivery yesterday and told AMEX that the quality was poor… but to be honest the quality is terrific… I love the cards… so I can’t do that in good conscience.  I run an honest house.

If I were running Overnightprints and if a new customer wrote me a polite letter asking for the sale price since it is so much different from what was paid, I’d do the deal… especially when it was a publisher who knows how to ‘work’ the media and (as Mark Twain notes) buys “ink by the barrel.”

Always send happy customers out the door, even if it cost you a few bucks. If you do that you will be in biz forever. 

Honestly, the cards are great… thick, clean stock, clear printing, exactly trimmed, well packaged, and beautifully matte finished.  While I run an insurance agency and a software company, I'am also a publisher ( and I know good print work when I see it. 

I highly recommend them for quality… but I won’t buy from them again. 



Maya Angelou said it best:

I Feel Ripped (Da da da da da da da!)
By Over Night Prints (Da da da da da da da!)

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

BEA Diary 2015

By Alan Canton...  with invaluable editorial assistance from Mayapriya Long
[Note: Click on any pix to see it enlarged.]

The free BEA bus from the (fashionable) East side took about an hour to get cross town to the hall, but it was OK. The anticipation of the first day is always enjoyable... sort of like on a first date!

When the bus pulled up, we all piled out, expecting to have to elbow our way up the stairs and onto the line past the badge-checkers to enter the exhibit area.

But as soon as we walked into the show, everyone noticed something different from previous shows: space... both more AND less of it. It was unmistakable. It was totally obvious. This year there was less booth space sold... and there was a lot more elbow space in the booths that were!

I was really looking forward to BEA this year, not only to see friends as well as the next bestsellers, but because our company has rolled out a new web design service called NewMedia Create...

... which is targeted to authors and publishers who have no money (which is most of them!)

For one thing, attention spans are shorter than they were years ago and many people don't need  expensive 15-screen sites. Indeed, "less is more" on the web today.

Our research shows that a lot of small biz people want a nice website and they want it up in a day or so, but can only pay around $399!

So there we were at BEA to meet with consultants, book shepherds, printers, and other industry vendors who will refer their clients to us.

And while there were lots of people for us to see and talk with and while we got lots of positive feedback on the new web design service, the show was simply not the show I had come to love and enjoy these past 19 years.

* * *

There is a specter haunting the publishing world and more specifically this year’s BEA, the specter of irrelevance. For those of you who do not believe in ghosts, a visit to this year’s annual book show at the New York City Javits Convention Center would probably convince you otherwise; as this show was a ‘ghost’ of its former self.

The good people at Reed Exhibitions put on a great trade event, and being someone who has a lot of experience in going to shows and writing about them (see Adams-Blake Publishing,) I know a ghost when it is staring back at me. Reed is the BMW and Mercedes Benz of the trade show impresarios but there are only so many ways to make a hall seem ‘filled’ when the space is not sold.

If BEA 2015 was not half the size of former events it seemed as such. The space-planners at Reed performed as much magic as they could in making the hall seem larger than it was, but everyone and their Amazon-hating dog knew it was smoke and mirrors. 

Making the autograph area larger and adding many more lounge-seating areas and food vendors  in the middle areas helped fill the room, or at least give the appearance of it being filled. However, there was still a lot of space roped off with yellow curtains. 

One quick look and it was easy to tell that many of the large houses bought less space this year. Usually some large publishing entity takes "center stage," the area front-and-center, which is the most expensive.

So who bought the high-priced real estate?

We all know that the best way to sell something expensive is to sell it to someone who is not using their own money to pay for it. In the book world whom might that be? The answer is foreign governments.

This year it looked as if one half of the space was sold to the embassies of wealthy Middle Eastern Arab oil states, European countries, and Asian governments. 

I never figured out what country this was, but it had the most comfortable chairs. I sat and rested!

There were more European countries represented this year, and Italy bought a lot of space and had a nice booth.

When it comes to booth-babes the Italians always win!

And then there was Turkey which was the first time I’ve ever seen them exhibit. They had a lovely booth with beautiful books. However I never saw anyone in the booth to greet visitors.

I always wonder why a booth is empty!

Another country that I had never seen before was Armenia. I have no idea what the Armenian reading population in the US is, but I suppose it must be substantial enough for them to travel to the show.

The booth had no traffic when I was there and she would have shown me every book she brought if I had the time!

Finally there was China.

Honestly, it looked like China had bought 30% of the  hall. I’m sure it was less, but that was the impression. They had a series of interconnected booths with furnishing that spared no expense... along with what looked like a booth-staff of over a hundred.

Look at the size of this area… and it was only one part of the Chinese exhibit!

It looked like China was trying to make some political statements. I spoke with some of their press people and they know the bad rep they have in the USA for censorship of the Internet.

One thing they didn’t talk about were Chinese knockoffs of US books and software which is a ‘shared memory!’

I’m trying to impress upon you just how large the China presence was. It was HUGE compared to any other country, or publisher. If it was not one-third of the hall, it sure looked like it.

I think China brought a thousand books to the show!

If there was one book that stood out, it was this one that came in a bunch of different languages. It looked like propaganda to me, but I’m hardly an expert on the politics and government of China. I do know a lot about Chinese food!

Obviously a front-list book! Do you wonder why?

The usual suspects were present from the large press, but the size of most of their exhibits was scaled down from previous years. It was the same with the large vendors like Bowker and Ingram which took less space and had fewer people this year; and many of the tech companies like Book Baby who had large spaces last year were not to be seen this year.

It was a two and a half day show, but it could easily been seen in a day and a quarter. And this year it opened with a half day. What was that all about? People told me that they were not going to schlep from their posh hotels on the East side all the way cross-town over to the West side (Javits Center) for just a few hours. For the life of me I can’t figure out what Reed was thinking by opening the show in the afternoon and I (and a lot of others I spoke with) would advise them not to do it again.

Another ghost of the past was the small press. In previous shows the small press was relegated to the “Outer Mongolia” of the hall… way off on the far-right (geographically, not politically!) side of the hall. But at least for their money they got real booths… you know with signage, drapes, a long table, chairs, etc.

Not this year. For about $3000 they got a small  table (and I do mean small... like in TV tray small!) in the central area of the hall. Think of a park with lots of small picnic tables all in a row.  And many of these micro-booths were shared! I think the tray-table on the Delta flight that I’m writing this electronic fish-wrap on now is larger than what these small publishers had in order to show their books! Yes, the location was terrific and the traffic was increased, but these were so small that it was difficult for anyone with more than one or two books to show their list.

Again this year there was the “DZ” or Digital Zone where Reed put these cute little kiosk booths, most of them from Indian firms doing e-book conversions and content-enhancement.

For an obviously smaller show, except for the too-tiny small press mico-tables, the show-floor was well designed. But then again, no one can create a show floor plan as well as the talented people at Reed.

I think Reed and their publicity partners did a great job publicizing the show. There were tons of pre-show press releases to the media, they had an excellent mobile app with all sorts of helpful functions, and I'm positive that everyone in the industry knew when and where the BEA was (which was not hard since it has been in the same place the past six years!)

So where was the traffic?

I simply don't know. 

The traffic was sparse in much of the hall. 

Every trade-show on the planet spins their numbers and inflates the attendee count by some percentage or another. Some include booth staff, security staff, vendor staff, or they use the number of tickets ordered, not actually picked up etc. Many shows will scan a badge each time it enters the exhibit hall, so if someone goes in, then comes out to go to lunch and then goes back in, they count it as two visitors! (If it is a 3-day show as someone does that each day, they record it as six visitors!)

Reed tends to be more conservative in their numbers than other trade show organizers, but since they did not scan badges this year, they won’t have an accurate count of ‘hits’ so to speak.

Normally it is wall-to-wall people… escalators are jammed with lines to get on,  people are elbow-to elbow… but it was not crowded this year.

I’ve not seen any published figures yet, but this was the least visited BEA I’ve ever been to, and this was my 19th show in a row. There were parts of the hall (especially in the DZ) where the booth attendants were actually asleep because they had no visitors.

Nap time!

Anyway, the number of attendees is not important. If you get one visitor to your booth who either buys your entire inventory (i.e. enough to pay for your booth and the trip) or they get you on a segment of Oprah or 60 Minutes or Today, the show is a worthwhile investment.

In the past there were tons of ‘blue badges’ (badge-color denoted if you were a buyer or a vendor or press or exhibitor. The non-buyer colors changed from year to year but buyers were always blue.) Every bookstore in the nation used to send someone to BEA (which used to be called ABA) to buy the year’s inventory. Now there are two buyers… Barnes & Noble, and Amazon… and I didn’t see a rep from either one at the show!

There were a fair number of librarians from the NY metro area, but we all know what library budgets are these days… and most of these wonderful people that I saw were waiting on line to get signed (free) copies of whatever was being given away by the major houses.

My bet is that two-thirds of the people on line in the autographing area were librarians.

While there was more traffic at the booths of the large publishers, especially those giving away free books or totes, it was nothing quite like previous years when you had to fight your way through the aisle.

In years past it was unheard of to see “open space” in the both of any large publishing house.

Bottom line, there just was not as much excitement at this show as I’ve seen in previous years. It was painfully obvious that the enthusiasm that large publishers have had for BEA has waned… many of them bought far less space and obviously showed fewer books.

This is not the official motto of this year’s show but it could have been since there was not much excitement.

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There used to be lots and lots of parties. Not so much anymore. In the past there were two really great parties… both of them award ceremonies… the IBPA Ben Franklin Awards and the IPPY Awards. The IBPA basically pulled out of BEA and now holds their own show, this past year it was in Austin, TX. 

However, the IPPY Awards are still held during BEA and it is easily the party everyone wants to go to, but only 300 can (as that is the max allowed in the building and so it is by invitation only.)

Jerry Jenkins owns the company that does the IPPY and he knows how to throw a great party. The past six years it has been held in a large two-floor night club on 8th Avenue and 57th called the Providence.

And no IPPY party would be complete without seeing Jerry with a knockout book-babe on his (very married) arm.

It’s all show biz… nothing going on here, except in Jerry's dreams!

Standing on the second floor (actually a mezzanine) you get to see all of the action on the floor below where Jim Barnes announces the winners. Note, the winners know in advance that they won which is why they spend the money to come to NY to accept.

Jim Barnes who runs the IPPY Awards is at the podium.

Jerry told me that he received around 6,000 entries for all of his award programs which is way more than any other award program that I know of. In my opinion the IPPY Award has surpassed the Ben Franklin award in prestige and stature, perhaps because the competition pool is larger than the 1500 or so entries that IBPA gets for their award.

The author of this electronic bird-cage liner and Jerry Jenkins

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When I first entered the exhibit hall I stopped at the IBPA booth. What a huge change. In past years IBPA would buy up a couple of aisles of space (at a discount,) carve them up, and re-sell standard 10x10 booths to its members for about $4,000 giving the buyer a prime location that was sure to get traffic. In the past there would be upward to 20 of these booths, giving IBPA a nice little profit.

Not this year. I don’t think they sold more than five or six booths, maybe not even that many.

And in the main IBPA area there used to be 30 or 40 feet of shelving where IBPA was being paid to exhibit books for their members (for a modest fee.) The concept is that buyers would browse and contact the publishers for more info (or buy from Ingram) Again, not this year. There were only a few shelves... a far cry from ghosts of BEA past!

Our web design company did the website for the Doomsday Kids series by Karen Folen.  I wasn’t expecting to see them there. Nice surprise for me!

I always like to cover the sidelines because it gives me an idea as to what direction the remaining retailers are going toward (since most sell other things besides books these days.) It was impossible to tell this year because there are very few new sideline vendors. But one that I found is Ogosport which has a popular bunch of build-it characters.

I'm not sure what these are even after Thomas explained it. But they looked like fun!

Every BEA has a vendor for reading glasses, but most of them are more boring than Jeb Bush (and that's pretty boring!) But 2020 Vision USA has frames that are just downright cool. If I could wear readers I'd have a bunch of these.

Denise Foster shows come cool red frames. 

Years ago we had numerous G/L as well as 'alternative lifestyle' presses that came to the show, often bringing what were then 'shocking' books. But we don't see too many anymore, maybe because the 'shock' has passed and it's all mainstream now? I don't know, but the German publisher Bruno Gmunder brought a few of their tomes which I thought looked interesting.

The Art of Looking is not quite as shocking a subject as it once was.

This year there were still a bunch authors who came to hawk their own books. Nely Cab is just such an author and while I don't know much about her genre, I thought that her books were so totally professional that they looked better than most tomes from the large houses with unlimited budgets who publish in this genre.

Ms. Nely Cab and some of her books. 

Many books I simply don't understand. But they have great covers making me think that there must be something inside them. The blurb for Creation is: "The entirety of the world’s art and invention has been inspired by a corrupted muse, who has implanted a series of codes within the works of history’s most influential authors, warning of humanity’s end and a new dawn of time."

A great cover will sell a book. I wish I had a close-up of it. See the website.

In the middle of the small press section was the perennial booth of one of the foremost publicity agencies in the lit biz... Smith Publicity.  They claim to be the "most experienced book marketing and book promotion agency in the industry." I don't know if that is just a bit of hype, (from a publicity agency? I'm shocked!) But I've always heard good things about them so my guess is that they are what they say they are.

Marissa Madill of Smith Pub holding one of the buttons we gave out.

Everyone at the BookExpo loved this button!

There is one and only one really great magazine about books in this industry and that is Foreword. One of their divisions is Foreword Reviews, where publishers can pay to have a book professionally reviewed. Years ago when this concept was first floated, there was outrage. But they stuck with it and now paid reviews are mainstream in the industry.

Stacy Price of Foreword Reviews

Each year there are a couple of aisles filled with remainder sellers. There are hardly ever anyone viewing those booths but each year the sellers keep coming back so I assume that they all must make a lot of sales. And the profits margins in a used bookstore is far better than a new one. Most new books get a 40% markup. But a used book can get a 100% to 400% markup... which is why you still see lots of used bookstores around. Buy for dollar and sell for three? Not bad!

The aisles are always empty but I guess a lot of biz is done because the remainder vendors always come back!

I remember years ago when there were tons of characters in costume. It's a sure-fire publicity-getter but for some reason it isn't done much anymore. Maybe everyone feels too sophisticated. It's too bad because lots of kookie costumes add a lot of fun to a show. This year, the only one I saw was from the Dummies people.

The author and the "dummy." Which one is which? :-)

One of my oldest friends in the business is the owner of Stone Bridge Press which has always done books on or about Japan and Japanese topics. They had not exhibited at BEA for many years but this year they exhibited through their distributor. I was hoping to see Peter Goodman, but he didn't come. They have a new imprint called ThreeL Media, (which are Love, Live, and Learn.)

Gregory Kaplan of ThreeL Media. 

Coach House Books is a fairly good-sized "literary" publisher out of Canada with a list of somewhat eclectic titles. There was something about this title that just caught my interest: "A bet between the gods Hermes and Apollo leads them to grant human consciousness and language to a group of dogs overnighting at a Toronto veterinary clinic. Suddenly capable of more complex thought, the pack is torn between those who resist the new ways of thinking, preferring the old 'dog' ways, and those who embrace the change." It's rather interesting to me.... YMMV.

Alana Wilcox of Coach House Books

There is a young woman... well she was younger when I was too.... who started at the bottom with Da Capo Press in Boston and has worked her way up the food-chain to VP and Acquiring Editor. I have no doubt that one day she will run her parent company Perseus Books, who also own a number of other publishing enterprises. This year she thinks "vegan" is in! If I were a large company looking for someone to run it, Lissa would be first on my list. (And yes, she is older than she looks!)

Lissa Warren of Da Capo Press

One area where there didn't seem to be a shortage of entries was the children's section. Many of the same publishers were there... with the same books. Most years there are a few publishers who come along and believe they have the next 'disney' character. Most never come back, but one that I thought might have a shot is Tails of Whimsy.

Daryl Slaton, illustrator and author for the series.

I think it is smart to publish to market segments, and I've always thought it smart to publish in the religious sector. Believers buy books! Ann Koffsky was in the Apples and Honey Press booth showing off her fun Judaica books. Their blurb: "Apples & Honey Press brings together the best authors and illustrators from North America and Israel to create memorable stories for children that illuminate the values of family, community, having fun, and being the best we can be."

Ann Koffsky is the author of some 30 children's books.

With kid books you just never know what people will buy... and there is nothing that can be too weird or strange in that genre. Sometimes I think the weirder and stranger the topic is the better it will sell! Anyway, I thought Tug And The Tooth was about the weirdest and strangest book I saw at the show, so it would not surprise me if it becomes a hit.

Heidi Whitaker, author

For what is called the middle-grade-child segment (grades 3-5,) the one publisher that I think has breakthrough potential is Connective Arts with their inspiring McLittles collection. There is enduring and endearing story-power here and it's the kind of thing that could get picked up by a Disney or Hallmark. I think McLittles has a shot. It's nice to see good quality stories directed at the elementary school market.

Andrew Metcalfe, author

Almost every show has a booth with some musical talent, and this year was no different. There is a company called Little Scholar that makes an iPad-like tablet targeted to young readers, and a well-known singer Brian Vander Ark (from The Verve Pipe)  is involved with it. I enjoyed listening to him.

Singer Brian Vander Ark

In the small press "pod" area (the small tables I mentioned earlier) was an interesting service I've never seen offered at BEA before. This is BookHive. "BookHive offers online focus group research for authors who want to test finished manuscripts in target markets. Both quantitative and qualitative online research are conducted via carefully selected members of the targeted readership. Test readers review finished manuscripts and give honest feedback. Results are available to the author to provide useful information for editing the book. Favorable test results can be a powerful tool for promoting the book to agents and publishers--as well as the general public, if self publishing is contemplated." Market research before you publish. What a concept!!

Jennifer Bowen calls herself "QueenBee" of BookHive

I talked to Kathy Ann Meis at Bublish. When I spoke to her what she said sounded like a good idea. But when I got to her website, after forgetting what she had told me, I could not figure out what the program is. It sounds like a good idea, but I'm at a loss to explain it. Take a look and maybe her program will work to help sell your book. It might be worth a shot.

Kathy Meis of Bublish

Some things are just silly enough to sell and apparently Santa Clops has done just that for several years. I'd never heard of it. "It's a monstrous take on the holiday classic The Night Before Christmas. In this new adaptation, Santa Clops®, the beastly one-eyed cousin of Kris Kringle, stops by a slumbering family's house on Christmas Eve to put some coal in the stockings of the children that live there." I got a smile out of it.

Cig Wailgum, author

Some publishers just get it altogether... the right story, the right character, the right market and the right strategy to become an acquisition target. I hung out for a while at the Madison K booth and watched as reps from  major house after major house came by to see if they could acquire not only Nina Kaplan's books but her entire line of products as well. I didn't stay long enough to see if anyone made the deal.

The rep for Madison K

Finally, I found what I thought was the most creative publisher at the show. Actually, they are more designer than publisher, but since they were at a publishing show I guess they are publishers. Their books and designs and products are just so.... unique (in a good way!) that in my opinion they win the "Best in Show" award. Take a look at Obvious State. You will understand why I think they are so good.

Evan and Nichole Robertson of Obvious State

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OK, so the show was not as large as it used to be and to my count it was not as well-attended as in years past. But it was still a good show. Reed did an excellent job, per usual, both in running the show and publicizing it. 

The issue, (i.e. specter) facing the BEA as well as the entire industry is relevance. Where are books in relation to the rest of the media? When it's easier to make a video and takes less time to consume it, is the written word still a viable means of communication?

I instinctively say 'yes' but young people whose total reading ability is 140 characters of a Twitter post, often say 'no.' 

I love books, book fairs and trade shows, and the BookExpo in particular. But as each year goes by I'm at more of a loss to explain just how a show is relevant to each of the players... the publishers, the authors, the middle channel, and the retailers. 

The 'rationalization' I hear from other show reviewers (like Jael McHenry) is that it is now all about making 'relationships' with the other players. I want to believe that, but I'm having a hard time substantiating it.

I think shows like the BEA are just fun. That's right. Fun. And in a highly profitable industry, people and companies will pay for fun. But publishing, for most of us, is not a high-margin business any longer.

There is an abundance of product and a shortage of consumers of said product.

And why is that?

I think it is simple.

We sell books when we ought to be selling reading. 

Hollywood never sold the story... they sold the romance and the adventure of going to the theatre and escaping from real life for a few hours (as well as sex in the dark.)

Theme parks don't sell rides... they sell an 'experience' and 'adventure' and even 'danger.'

Cruise ships don't sell clean air and rest and relaxation, they sell luxury and gourmet food.

But we're still selling story-lines, plots, characters, and  information, when we need to be selling reading as an experience, adventure, and escape.

Take away the 'fun' of BEA and what is left? It's not sales. And judging by the few press creds that I saw, it's not publicity.

No one is buying anything anymore. It's become a "look what we're doing now" kind of show... and while there is nothing wrong with this, I fail to see how the corporate bean-counters at the large houses can make the case for the expenditure.

New York is 'easy' for the large houses that support the show. They are there, their books are there, their people are there, and the "there is there." 

Next year .....

I am wondering if the large houses will go out-of-pocket to ship their booths, books, and people half-way across the country for what does not look like much of a return for them. And I believe that it will only take a couple of the large houses to say "We're just not going to do it" and the rest of the large houses will drop out as well.

Either Reed got enough commitments from the large houses to book McCormick... or McCormick let them book the house on spec with wiggle-room to bug-out if they can't sell the space by a certain date. 

I love the BEA. I enjoy seeing the products, talking with the people, and the overall 'high' I get in the 'big hall.' But it will not surprise me if Reed decides to cancel the show. I hope it doesn't happen, but the specter is there. 


I hope you enjoyed this year's wrap. It's a lot of work for me and my colleague (Mayapriya Long) to do but it is a labor of 'love' and we will continue it... so long as BEA continues to give us a press credential.

If you want to see some of the past ten editions, here they are:


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New Media Website Design
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Per usual, if you have comments or corrections, please send them to bea-diary at adams-blake dot com