BookExpo America Lands in LA, With Bouts of ‘Book Fair Fatigue’
By nearly all accounts, it’s a beastly time for a book convention. You’ve got the gangrenous economy. War-torn travel itineraries. SARS shut-downs. And cash-strapped rep groups (who’ve already splurged for sales conferences on the east coast). Throw in a liberal dose of what some are calling “book fair fatigue,” and BookExpo America, which rolls into the Los Angeles Convention Center from May 28 to June 1, is facing more than its share of the usual pre-show scuttlebutt. “We certainly have been watching the world situation pretty carefully,” says BEA Vice President and Show Manager Greg Topalian, whose diagnostics nonetheless put the gig admirably on target: BEA is slightly larger than last year, at 300,000 sq. ft., and will top 2,000 exhibitors, on par with recent years. And though flocks of foreign publishers and many domestic players say they’re sitting this one out, Topalian predicts good vibrations all around: “All of our registration numbers look great.”
Chalk that up, in part, to no small amount of pump-priming among the Hollywood crowd, with Reed-owned Variety helping spread the good word. “We’ve done a lot of promoting to the film and TV development community,” Topalian says. “You’re going to see ten times as many Hollywood folks at the show as you ever will anywhere else.” You’ll see some of them on Friday, May 30, at any rate, when Variety Editor-in-Chief Peter Bart presides over a free panel of film industry vets, “From Books To Blockbusters” (it’s at 10:00 am in Room 411), with Robert Bookman of Creative Artists Agency, producer Peter Guber, and Fox honcho Tom Rothman. Down on the show floor, a number of Hollywood studios are setting up shop in Baker & Taylor’s booth — among them Paramount, Disney, MGM, and Dreamworks — to tout the “unique cross-merchandising opportunity” represented by DVD tie-ins such as Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings (officials cite the dreamy DVD profit margins as one way Hollywood synergy can help booksellers stay afloat). As for actual Hollywood deals taking place, well, make sure your rental car’s fully gassed up. “The film people, as ever, seem amused by it all,” one scout reports, “with the trend being to say, ‘I’m not really spending time at the fair itself.’”
‘A Long Trip’ to LA
It’ll take more than a few Winnie the Pooh DVDs — or even the sight of perky Ellen DeGeneres, performing at 9 pm on Saturday, May 31 at The Wiltern, benefiting the Book Industry Foundation — to get the blood pumping, especially when it comes to far-flung foreign publishers. “I have the fewest number of clients ever attending,” reports scout Mary Anne Thompson. “Even my ‘diehard’ clients aren’t making an appearance. It’s a long trip, and not really a rights fair anymore.” As with other scouts, her clients revamped their plans after attending the London Book Fair and realizing “that yet another book fair wasn’t necessary.” Those who will be making the trip include a New Age editor from Egmont Richter; two representatives from AW Bruna (Holland); the Editor-in-Chief of Kadokawa Shoten (Japan); a nonfiction editor from Droemer-Knaur (Germany); and film client National Geographic Films. While its value as a rights fair may be open to question, Thompson adds, it remains as always a first-rate opportunity to survey the smaller publishers, and to check out marketing and promotional ideas.
“I think LA adds a glimmer of sunshine to BEA, but not enough to entice the hordes to come,” adds Todd Siegal of Franklin & Siegal Associates. “We only have five publishers coming to LA, but that’s more to do with our other clients having been to the London Book Fair than any war-related stuff.” For those who may want to drop by, Siegal’s show-going clients are Hodder (UK), Unieboek (Holland), Norma (Colombia), Damm (Norway), and China Times (Taiwan). A few others have trickled through New York ahead of the show, including Forum (Sweden), Heyne (Germany), and Hayakawa (Japan). Still, international travel jitters have wreaked havoc on clients’ schedules. Siegal’s Swedish publisher was only given clearance to fly (anywhere at all) two weeks ago, he tells PT, and SARS-stricken destinations such as China are still verboten. For other scouts, it’s a numbingly familiar tale. “Most of my clients never intended to attend BEA this year,” says Jutta Klein, though two that were — German clients Hoffmann & Campe and the Bertelsmann Club — scrapped their BEA plans after hitting the London Book Fair. (On the other hand, French clients Presses de la Cité and France Loisirs are making the trek to BEA after all, as will Val Hudson from Headline, who’ll be putting in quality time with LA-based authors and associates.)
If SARS or London aren’t keeping them away, there’s always Operation Iraqi Freedom to foul up plans. “We had quite a lot of problems setting up schedules,” reports Ornella Robbiati, Editor-in-Chief for Italian house Sonzogno, “because when we started fixing appointments war was still on, so many Americans weren’t sure to go.” Though she’ll be making the pilgrimage as usual, Robbiati affirms that London has increasingly made BEA redundant when it comes to rights. “If you meet a publisher or agent at the end of March, it’s quite unuseful to meet him again after a couple of months.” By Robbiati’s lights, BEA has suffered in two further respects: “ABA [as it was formerly known] used to be held each year in a different town and it was a nice way for foreigners to ‘tour’ America,” she says. “Secondly, one could see the marketing tools with which big companies supported the launching of books. But now nothing is really new anymore, and it’s getting more difficult year after year to take samples.”
Beyond the absentee foreigners, some of the show’s other constituencies may be spotty, particularly commission rep groups. Christopher Kerr’s Parson Weems clan will have two out of six members present, while Ted Heinecken of Chicago-based Heinecken Associates is sending three out of seven reps, citing the low number of midwestern accounts expected to attend. (His group is showing up out of loyalty to their regional associations — the Great Lakes Booksellers Association and the Upper Midwest Booksellers Association — who are as always soliciting titles for the Christmas catalog.) Meanwhile, Don Sturtz and his colleagues at Fuji Associates are sitting out this BEA completely, as is Sandra Hargreaves and her Vancouver, Canada–based sales group — partly because they’ll shortly be heading east for BookExpo Canada. Reps confirm that the regional bookseller fairs are increasingly where they find the action. Further dampening enthusiasm on the selling side, it might be added, Borders is not sending any buyers this year, only management representatives.
As publishers have cut back in the last two years on their own staff attendance, explains sales and marketing consultant Sally Dedecker, commission reps get saddled with more than their fair share of booth duty, yet another show disincentive. For a glimmer of sunshine, however, Dedecker says that up until a few weeks ago, BEA was a complete nonstarter. Then her phone started ringing, with domestic and foreign clients clamoring to meet in LA, and the fair became an instantly attractive proposition. That ought to warm the hearts of show promoters, who point out that over 800 publishers come to BEA that do not attend any other book convention. “London and Frankfurt are wonderful,” Topalian says. “You should go to those. But BEA is a totally different market.” That view is endorsed by Jan Nathan, Executive Director of the Publishers Marketing Association, who says the west-coast venue means a cornucopia of small and mid-size houses. “Whenever we come west with BEA, we see a huge contingent of great mid-sized publishers based both on the Pacific Coast and in Colorado and Arizona, which are hotbeds of growing publishing companies,” she says. As for the dearth of rights sales, a little pause in the action may not be a terrible thing. “I think there are too many foreign rights fairs in existence right now,” she says. “We could all be on the road attending one show or another as it relates to foreign rights.”
Back at the Buchmesse . . .
On that note, a travel advisory just in from the Frankfurt Book Fair — which of course will remain at the Messe until 2010 — where fair spokesman Holger Ehling has a word for those who haven’t yet made hotel reservations. If the hotel insists on a five- or six-night minimum stay, Ehling says, kindly inform them that the fair and the Frankfurt Hotels Association have agreed to banish the minimum-stay requirement, and that they’re welcome to contact Frankfurterhof chief Herr Leitgeb for an explanation. (Some of the hotels have conveniently forgotten about their pact.) In other Frankfurt news, the organization has announced that the guest of honor at the 2004 fair will be the Arab World. Fair officials are working overtime to include dissident writers, seeking the involvement of International PEN and other groups. We hear that Cuba was so smitten by the gesture that it proclaimed Germany the guest of honor at its 13th International Book Fair in Havana (it runs February 5-15, 2004). This year’s Havana fair reportedly hit 30 cities around Cuba after its January 30 opening, selling three million books and attracting 3.5 million visitors countrywide. Dr. Bernd Wulffen, the German ambassador to Cuba, assured the press that more Deutsch-Caribbean culture swapping was on the way. As he told Radio Havana, “We will sign a cultural agreement very soon.”