Reporting by Lorraine Shanley, Amy Rhodes, and Constance Sayre.
The convention, which ran May 28-31, featured a lot of stars, from Thursday’s Author Breakfast (where Neil Patrick Harris, Anjelica Huston, Tavis Smiley and Lisa Scottoline moved the audience to tears) to Walter Isaacson and Jacob Weisberg taking the stage in conversation. On the exhibition floor, everyone from Billy Idol to Kate DiCamillo and Jason Segel were signing copies of their forthcoming books.
For the past few years, Book Expo has had shifting demographics as it’s tweaked its programming to accommodate readers more directly with the last two years’ Power Reader Days and this year’s BookCon (which will expand to two days next year, presumably to allow for a larger attendance than the 10,000 cap this year). Author attendance also increased by 25% this year. But as the show gravitates toward readers and authors, the question for publishers is how to evaluate the business to business opportunity. As more and more publishers conduct business in curtained off meeting rooms, is the investment in light boxes and booths paying off?
In general, industry-related programming seemed to be retooled to fit the reader-centric focus. There were no Publishers Launch educational sessions this year, though IDPF did partner with BISG to provide some interesting panels on Wednesday, including a rousing talk from David Rushkoff. Meeting rooms this year were located on the exhibition hall floor, a welcome departure to being allocated downstairs in years past, though tables were often as crowded as the lines for the autographing stations located behind them. The exhibition floor was also laid out differently this year, with the Big Six (yes, still 6 for a final year as Penguin’s booth was separate from Random House) scattered throughout, a move that also might be attributed to closing off space for BookCon on Saturday. As for Saturday, while some parts of the floor were still reserved for exhibitors to do business, many said it was dead in comparison to the 10,000+ attendees making their way through BookCon’s section.
Indeed it seems like there are still kinks to work out to accommodate both the industry and “lay” book fans. This was evident in the way booksellers, exhibitors, and librarians were identified on their badges, which was less clear than the color-coding of years’ past. Some exhibitors could even be seen asking attendees if they were in fact booksellers before giving them some of the promotional items they were handing out. Clearer color-coding will make it easier to identify which attendees could translate more directly to sales, and Book Expo’s Steve Rosato says it will be done.
With the success of BookCon, there is certainly much excitement for both BEA and the book industry in general, though accommodating BookCon and the businesses represented as a part of the trade show may need some refinement. Integrating these two audiences will only strengthen the impact of the expo as it continues to grow and show that publishing can have its glitz and glam, but, hopefully, also serve as a viable business opportunity.