by Terry Nathan
What a Wonderful Time: Highlights of Our Big Spring Events
When I got back from an action-packed week of events at Publishing University and BEA, I was exhausted and rejuvenated at the same time. Sounds strange, but it’s true. Our office works tirelessly in the months leading up to the Benjamin Franklin Awards™ ceremony, the Publishing University—three days of educational seminars—and the publishing industry’s largest trade show, BookExpo America. In all, there were six full days of meeting, greeting, talking, guiding, encouraging, and cheering on our industry’s best and most devoted participants.
This year saw an increased number of events for us, with our third Graduate School, the formal announcement of our association’s name change to Independent Book Publishers Association, and the celebration of our 25th anniversary. Here’s an overview of the nonstop stimulating events.
The Publishing University and Grad School
Our 24th annual Publishing University was our best ever. Robin Bartlett, our Publishing University chair, and his team of Track Leaders and Course Organizers put together a spectacular program. This year, we had four keynote addresses instead of just one, and all four were huge hits. And we were fortunate to have Dominique Raccah of Sourcebooks not only deliver a keynote address, but also teach some of the breakout sessions. She is so dynamic, so easygoing, and so approachable. Her generosity and support of IBPA truly epitomize our association’s motto, “Helping each other achieve and succeed.”
Sara Nelson of Publishers Weekly keynoted our first ever Advanced Track, which was a great success. Sara’s knowledge of the industry and knack for public speaking were a perfect mix. Michael Healy of the Book Industry Study Group and Dawn Bruno and her team from the U.S. Department of Commerce shared some very useful information to help our members increase their sales at home and abroad, and reminded everyone about useful information available to all.
In a panel led by our association president, Florrie Binford Kichler, David Steinberger from the Perseus Books Group and Johnny Temple of Akashic Books talked about their companies and about the industry. Two very different individuals, and each with a lot to say. David not only shared invaluable insights; he also answered some very tough questions about the recently released What Happened by Scott McClellan, former press secretary for George W. Bush. Johnny’s philosophy on the business of publishing and the industry in general was invigorating.
Another new feature of this year’s program—and another huge hit, by the way—was our Early Bird “Ask the Experts” sessions. Professionals in the industry doled out thousands of dollars of free advice to those daring enough to show up at 7 a.m.
While the keynote addresses and “Ask the Experts” were certainly highlights of our Publishing University this year, there were also 75-plus breakout sessions where our industry’s best shared their priceless wisdom. From Author Websites, to Legal Issues, to Blogging and Social Networks, to Meet the Opinion Makers (producers from Oprah, the Today show, etc.), and everything in between, this year’s faculty wowed its audiences all week long. It never gets old for me to hear, “What I learned in that one session was worth the price of admission.”
Our Graduate School—an event we put in place to meet the needs of our more experienced members—was back for the third time this year. We had asked those members what information was most important to them, and most replied resoundingly, “Technology.” Tim O’Reilly and Andrew Savikas headed a lineup of industry gurus in this area.
Each year IBPA provides scholarships to one lucky member of each of our affiliate groups. This year we had our best showing ever, with 16 scholarship recipients who will take what they learned at Publishing University back to their regional groups to share with everybody else. This program fits perfectly into our association’s mission of education for the industry.
The Benjamin Franklin Awards
The culmination of our Publishing University and Graduate School every year is our Benjamin Franklin Awards ceremony. This year we had more than 1,800 entries in 50 categories, with some of the best books I have ever seen. With three judges for each category, 150 professionals from across the industry work incredibly hard to choose finalists. Selecting just three in each category is no small feat, given the quality of the entries.
The evening was a delight. Emceed by Florrie Binford Kichler with several of our board members presenting awards, it included a most memorable production created by John Webster and Francie Droll of Abacus Graphics that kicked off by unveiling our new logo, and segued to a tribute to Jan Nathan, who passed away far too soon last June. There were no dry eyes in the house, including mine. I could not be prouder of her accomplishments even if she wasn’t my mother, or more eager to carry on the work she started 25 years ago.
Seeing the excitement of the winners each year is inspirational and makes all the hard work that goes into this awards program worthwhile. At the same time, it is hard for me to see finalists walking away feeling as if they had lost, when in fact they’ve been honored too. Being a finalist is a major accomplishment. Only 150 out of 1,800 entries can boast of that.
At BookExpo America, people from throughout the book-publishing industry get together, compare notes, and introduce all that is new over a three-day period. We were all very hopeful that the show’s return to the West Coast after five years in the East would bring booksellers and others out in large numbers. Unfortunately, attendance was down this year, and the blue badges (the color the booksellers wear) were few and far between. I have no doubt the downturn in the economy is to blame for this lower attendance. I spoke to many of my friends in the industry, and most agreed that travel is one of the first items to be trimmed from the budget when finances get tight.
That said, if you had been walking by the IBPA booths, you never would have known that attendance was down. Our area was hopping with activity from beginning to end. We had a demonstration booth with author signings and other demos that was completely booked for every day of the show. These events draw in a lot of people, and the crowds then draw more people who want to see what is going on.
Because the demonstration booth was directly across the aisle from the main IBPA booth, all members with books on display benefited from the activity there. And our display this year was nice and open, with plenty of volunteers ready to help.
We also had a birthday party at the booth—a little cake and champagne celebration for our 25-year anniversary. We had sent out thousands of invitations for this in advance, and it showed. Later that same day, we hosted a cocktail reception where Dominique Raccah congratulated PMA, and now IBPA, on our success. In attendance were some of the founders of PMA along with current board members and others in the industry.
This year we ordered more than 500 badges for our members who wanted to attend the show. I always encourage members to walk the floor and network with others in the industry, and I’m grateful that many also offer to help at our booth. To all who helped, thank you for your hard work and your friendly smiles, welcoming passersby. Working trade shows can be very intimidating, but when you get right down to it, networking is what everyone is there to do. And hopefully we all sell some books along the way.
For the IBPA staff, mornings started between 5 and 6 a.m. on all six days, and many times work continued on into the night. All events were well organized and executed, and I would like to recognize the hard work of our staff: Lisa Krebs, Susan Nicoletti, April McDuffy, Andrea Nathan, Kirstin Tombar, and Teresa Fogarty. Next time you talk with one of these folks, thank them for me, would you?
Here at IBPA, our fiscal year runs from July 1 to June 30, partly to mesh with the Publishing University, the Benjamin Franklin Awards ceremony, and BEA. Believe it or not, we have already hit the ground running to get ready for 2009. For those of you who were unable to attend this year, I know you were there in spirit. For those of you who did attend, I applaud your commitment to your publishing business. Either way, I look forward to seeing you all in late May 2009 in New York City.