Browsing BEA: “It Won’t Be Dull”

As the great mother ship BookExpo America prepares to set down in New York City on May 1, and the wall-to-wall lineup of bashes, fests, and sundry galas has us all excruciatingly triple-booked, Publishing Trends checked in with a number of show veterans to see whether this year’s industry summit will be a whirlwind of activity, or merely a light buffeting from all those air kisses. In other words: Will anybody be doing any business?

Darn tootin’, if you ask Steven Rosato, Group Sales Director and Director of Strategic Accounts for BEA. He’s been talking up the fact that show officials have been wrangling non-traditional booksellers with the Gold Buyers Program, which has offered some small incentives to lure retail giants such as Costco, the Burlington Coat Factory, Marriott, K-Mart, Wal-Mart, and others to the show. We’re also told that Borders is set to conduct one of its major annual pow-wows at BEA, and is dispatching the chain’s entire buying group (upwards of 200 people). Amazon is doing likewise, and Books-a-Million has been seduced with the promise of a dedicated meeting room, the result being a significant number of BAM attendees as well. Adding to the anticipated hordes, Ingram has cut a deal with its customer base, offering affiliated retailers a $10 discount on their badge (which goes for $110 until April 4, but is $150 on site).

On the exhibitor side, hopes are high over the cheap “day” pass BEA has offered for $20, which is geared to give NYC-area publishers a cheap way to empty out the office and send more staff than typically attend. S&S is taking full advantage of that option, says Marketing Director Michael Selleck, so expect lots of curious bodies on the floor. Mobilization also continues apace on the library front, with Pennsylvania Library Association past president (and rabid BEA fan) Jack Burke chartering two buses for his colleagues to attend the show, for a $15 fare. We’re told 90 people are confirmed — and buses are full.

Despite the deals, however, Reed still seems concerned about bookseller turnout, particularly among Californians. There’s worry that if the show continues to alternate coasts, as in the past, attendees may simply take a rain check until it boomerangs back closer to home. Independent reps also report a mixed bookseller response, with many wary of the show “politics” and smarting from the past indifference of booth personnel to the lowly “blue badges.” And there’s the rising “body count,” or the toll last fall has extracted from publishers, sales management, and sales teams. “We have had eight sales managers fired, ‘disappeared’ or ‘defenestrated’ since the New Year,” one rep tells us, “and we have every reason to believe that this trend will continue as blame for flat or depressed sales continues to be parceled out.”

Depopulation may also be hitting the rights-trading floor, but for a different reason. “Most publishers want to have appointments in their offices,” says scout Christina McInerney. “In fact, some have even said they would prefer to meet the foreign publishers in their offices over the weekend rather than go to the Javits Center. I guess this attitude is determined by what sort of space has been allocated for rights sales. It doesn’t seem like many have made it an attractive proposition.” For those keeping score, among McInerney’s clients who will be trekking to BookExpo are Ediciones B/Vergara, Verlagsgruppe Luebbe, Campus, Het Spectrum, Sony Books, and Livres de Poche. The only clients not attending are from the Greek house Livanis.

Furthermore, according to one senior rights director, several scouts report that even though they attended the event previously, they wouldn’t be coming to BEA this year because it followed too closely on the heels of the London Book Fair. (They opted for London instead.) On the other hand, some editors said they were pointedly attending this year’s BEA because they were on their way to NYC (some were even here) in September, but never got to their meetings, so they’ll make up for it in May. Meanwhile, out-of-town reps were relieved that it saves them an air ticket to BEA, as they’ll come to New York anyway for sales conferences.

BEA: The Full Meal Deal

Despite the jitters, some are predicting a full house. “I have quite a few clients attending,” says scout Mary Anne Thompson, “and I think people are making a real effort to visit New York City.” Some of Thompson’s clients who were already in town in the winter months are returning for BEA, and some of those attending BEA will also be back in September. Clients attending so far include: Rocco, Belfond, Piemme, Scherz, Droemer, Richters, Macmillan, Bruna, Vassallucci, Kadokawa, and Grijalbo-Mondadori. All told, it’s a “pretty good” head count of 22 people. As for logistics, Thompson says, meetings for clients pre- and post-BEA are slated for editors’ and agents’ offices, with a typical day’s schedule containing 6-10 meetings. During BEA, where most of the rights action will take place, at least 10 meetings per day are expected. She’s optimistic that heads of houses and senior reps will make an effort to attend the show, at least on Friday, and expects a larger international crowd than in past years, when the industry had tired of BEA, citing flagging energy levels and lackluster attendance.

For her part, Sarah Goodwin of Sanford J. Greenburger expects an action-packed show replete with “a lot of after-hours revelry and plenty of grist for the gossip-mills.” As Goodwin says, “A lot of our clients are coming a little bit before or after BEA as well, so they know they’re going to get to meet with absolutely everyone they want to. Usually, they would have to schedule a trip to New York sometime during the year, separate from the book fairs, but this year, it’s an all-in-one deal.” She notes that all of the agency’s big clients are attending, despite the proximity of both the Toronto Book Fair and LBF. Echoing other post-9/11 remarks, she adds, “If anything, people are even more eager to show New Yorkers their support.”

The safest attitude? Go for minimal sales and maximal parties. “We are guardedly optimistic,” says Christopher Kerr of Parson Weems. “Fewer client publishers will be exhibiting, largely because of poor bookseller attendance in earlier shows, as well as concern about NYC exhibit costs and union shakedowns.” Other booksellers, he says, are already salivating over visions that the parties will be on par with the last, decadent New York BEA. (PT’s informal survey turned up numerous bashes, most hosted by publishers.) But sales may be scarcer than a taxi on 11th Avenue. “We write very little business either at the show or around the show,” he says. “However, we encourage our publishers to promote ‘Show Specials’ and we see some backlist business as a result. Also, we hear, by the grapevine, that many other publishers are privately offering themselves or portions of their lists for sale. Whatever it is, BEA will not be dull.”