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!
... 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.
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?
There were more European countries represented this year, and Italy bought a lot of space and had a nice booth.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!)
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!)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.)
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.
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!)
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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!!
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.
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.
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.
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.
There is an abundance of product and a shortage of consumers of said product.
And why is that?
I think it is simple.
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.
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.
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 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:
You MAY (and are encouraged to) share the link to this piece or reprint any part of it without prior permission so long as you use the following attribution:
Alan N. Canton, Managing Partner
New Media Website Design
"Websites for authors, publishers, and small businesses at an affordable price"
Fair Oaks, CA
Per usual, if you have comments or corrections, please send them to bea-diary at adams-blake dot com