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BookExpo America 1997

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We all went to the BookExpo show with great trepidation. Our biggest fear was regarding the attendance. Who would show up at the site if the major houses weren’t in attendance?

I think that the show this year reflected the book publishing industry as a whole. Those of us who did show up and display our wares were the independent presses (which, we all know, is the growing side of the publishing business). And though many of the major bookseller chains chose not to attend the show in support of the major New York publishing houses’ boycott, quite a few independent booksellers decided to support the show and we became a beneficiary of their support.

Here are some comments on the issuing of badges for the BEA (as many of you know, the badges are color-coded, and we all look for those “blue” badges which are supposed to indicate a Bookstore Owner or Bookseller):


      I feel that all booksellers who attend this show should be admitted at no charge. They are the reason we exhibitors attend this show. We, in effect, by paying for our booths and displays, subsidize the attendance of our national booksellers at this show. (Booksellers currently pay a lower admittance fee than general trade visitors.) Anyone who owns or works in a bookstore should be admitted at no charge to the exhibit floor.


Many publishers who attended the show identified themselves to the registration staff as “booksellers” so that they could obtain those desirable “blue” badges. There were two reasons for their requests, they informed me. One: they only had to pay the $90 booksellers badge fee for the three days as opposed to $200 for the general trade visitor badge. Two: they were sure they could walk through the exhibits and get better treatment with a blue badge than with another color badge.



Any exhibiting publisher/author should be aware that the booth owners of any booth in which your title appears is able to get you an author badge free and a trade visitor or publisher badge at a lesser cost if they apply in advance. There should be no reason if you are displaying on the floor that you should not be able to obtain badges.



Many foreign rights buyers had to pay $200 to get on the floor. Since they are buying product, they should receive either a free or a somewhat-reduced-price badge to get on the floor. Many of those who I met with stated that they would not return next year for a couple of reasons, the price of badges being one of them. As a comparison, you can buy a trade visitor badge to attend the Frankfurt Book Fair (which is much larger than the BEA and runs for a much longer time period [approx. six days]) for approximately $45.


Some reflections on the show’s attendance:


      While there was a reduced number of booksellers on the floor, the ones who were there were good ones and definitely buyers and/or potential buyers.


In the past, many booksellers arrived with their families, and the bookseller, spouse, and two or three children all obtained blue badges, allowing them to fall into the count for attending booksellers. This year, most of the booksellers arrived without families, and we on the floor benefited from their uninterrupted time. When families are on the floor, the kids want to go somewhere, a spouse wants to see a personality, or whatever, and the bookseller is both distracted and unable to spend time at the booth. This year, without those distractions, the booksellers who stopped by the booth spent time talking with us and asking about specific titles.



Several times I noticed a bookseller sitting on the floor in our booth area (seems to be their favorite place to perch) looking at a stack of titles and marking up our catalog. We hope that this will mean orders after the show. The booksellers commented on how good it was to be able to review many of the titles they had only seen covers of or had only gotten promo on in the past.



Hedging our bets on perhaps a lack of attendance, we booked quite a few international rights appointments and were pleased with the results. And we were able to see some of the titles included in their catalogs that we had previously sold to them in Frankfurt. It was enjoyable to see the Blues Busters title which we sold to a German publisher last year appear with the same cover as used in the US version. Seems that a front cover containing a collection of jelly beans is understandable in more than one culture!



The overall pace of the show was much less hectic, which most of us appreciated. We were able to spend time with individuals instead of racing from building to building. Having the show on one floor was a definite plus.



Yes, the food at the convention was over-priced and not really great, but most of us don’t attend shows for their cuisine. I guess the more experienced either bring their own food or do as many of us do . . . we eat whatever food has the shortest line. I don’t remember the last time I ate some of the food I opted for on the floor!


We have not yet received final numbers, but while I think the quantity of those attending was down I would say that the quality was up. So we will return next year to Chicago. On another (happier) note, the company that manages the show is pursuing moving its location so that the show can, as it did in the past, move from West to Midwest to East. It will not happen in 1998, but will hopefully happen soon. While the convention center layout is good at McCormick Place, it is geographically far away from the downtown, necessitating a bus, train, or cab ride, plus Chicago is a very expensive city as far as accommodations are concerned.

The 1998 Publishing University saw 520 people in attendance and the general response from the show was great. Two days of heavy networking and intensive educational programs set the stage for what was to follow. As one attendee at Publishing University stated, “This isn’t like any other seminar I’ve ever attended before. It’s like coming in a stranger and leaving as being part of a family.” We hope that all people attending our seminars were able to experience these warm feelings.

A thanks to all of the exhibitors at the Publishing University who help subsidize all of the food events and the parties each evening. Also a special thank you to the following sponsors: McNaughton & Gunn, Radio/TV Interview Report, Quality Books, and Publishers Weekly/Library Journal, who helped sponsor the Benjamin Franklin reception, where the food was fantastic, the company great, and the evening a celebration of the independent press.

John Kilcullen, President of IDG Books, received three special Benjamin Franklin Awards for his company. Never before in the history of the association has anyone ever received three perfect scores from the three judges in a category (all of whom judge independently across the country and then send their judging forms to PMA for compilation). Not only did we receive one perfect score for the IDG’s “Dummies” books, we received 30 perfect scores for the 10 books entered. We then decided to award IDG for their excellence in developing their company into what it is today—a trademark in the industry. They were awarded a Benjamin Franklin Award for Excellence in Editorial Content, they received another award for Excellence in Overall Design, and they received a third award for Excellence in Marketing and Overall Publishing.

In a moving address to the attendees, Kilcullen (who had just flown in from Australia) with a voice breaking in emotion encouraged all of the 500+ people in the audience to dare to dream. He stated, “Seven or eight years ago, we were like many of you, just starting out and being told that our dream could not work. We persevered and today have a company that is hugely successful and still growing.” He further stated that he knew that somewhere in the audience there was a person or persons who would continue to be persistent and follow their dreams. He said that he hoped to see them on that same stage a few years later receiving accolades as his company had received them. There was not a dry eye in the house, I can assure you, at the end of his talk. He then graciously called many people from his staff to the stage to receive the awards and the applause along with him. A fitting end to a wonderful and inspiring two days.

Our only wish . . . that you all could have been there to experience it with us!

This article is from thePMA Newsletterfor July, 1997, and is reprinted with permission of Publishers Marketing Association.

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