An overwhelmingly positive mood, with repeated refrains of strong traffic, was mixed with questions about the forthcoming Consumer Day, during the Tuesday kickoff of BookExpo America.
“BookExpo is always good for us,” said OverDrive’s Steve Potash. “There’s been good, strong traffic,” he added, noting that show director Steve Rosato had “really optimized the show for all stakeholders.”
Shawn Foster, sales director at Hachette Book Group, also spoke of “fabulous” foot traffic in her house’s booth. Foster said the publisher saw a particularly sizable crowd descending for galleys of YA author Libba Bray’s forthcoming The Diviners—all ARCs were gone by 9:30 a.m.
Two publishers at opposite ends of the political spectrum both gave a hearty thumbs up to the first day. Marji Ross, publisher of Regnery, said her booth was very busy, especially given that the show had just gotten under way. “It helps to have a bestseller,” she added, referring to The Amateur (which is high on a number of lists). New Press’s Ellen Adler, meanwhile, referred to an “effervescence” among independent booksellers that she hadn’t seen in years. “They seem to have a renewed sense of purpose,” she claimed, noting that the house’s The New Jim Crow has been particularly popular with the indies.
That effervescence certainly did seem to be affecting the booksellers who talked to PW Show Daily. “I didn’t expect it to be this crowded!” exclaimed Cynthia Compton from 4 Kids Books and Toys in Zionsville, Ind. “The world has returned to BEA,” she said. Matt Norcross, co-owner of McLean & Eakin in Petoskey, Mich., got a boost from hearing author-turned-bookseller Ann Patchett speak at the Celebration of Bookselling Lunch, where Patchett said, “Brothers and sister... I believe sometimes, against the odds, the little guy wins. We are the little guys.” She then recited from the Agincourt speech in Henry V and received a standing ovation.
“When anyone validates the hardships we have, it’s very inspiring,” said Norcross, who felt buoyed that publishers were more attuned to booksellers this year. “Publishers seem to be asking for specifics. For instance, I had one publisher ask me how we can best capture preorders.” Cathy Langer, of the Tattered Cover in Denver, appreciated hearing about books “that were low on her radar” from Monday’s Editor’s Buzz Adult Books panel, while Jean Ernst, events manager at Wild Rumpus in Minneapolis, said, “Everyone seems happy... even the publishers.”
At the Penguin booth, spirits were high after Junot Díaz attracted a large crowd for a signing of his much-buzzed new book, This Is How You Lose Her. The novelist, Penguin Books’ Maureen Donnelly said, signed for more than two hours. Overall, Donnelly thought the booth had been “packed.” When asked about Consumer Day—on Thursday, Javits will be open to 1,000 “power readers,” who will be the first group of consumers ever to descend on the trade event—she expressed intrigue more than anything else. “I’m curious to see who it attracts. Are these people book lovers? Book clubbers? Wannabe writers?” Pondering that comment, she added that the ideal, in her mind, would be if they were book clubbers.
The Consumer Conundrum
“I’ve seen a lot of blue tags,” said Knopf’s Nicholas Latimer, referring to the badge identifier for booksellers. All those blue tags filled him with optimism. Latimer, like Donnelly, was excited about adding consumers to the mix, even if he still has questions about how Thursday will turn out. Latimer wondered out loud if the key to an improved BEA lies in making the event less of a trade show and more of “a book fair.”
One BEA veteran, talking off the record about a show he hadn’t seen change in more than 30 years, said he thought change needed to happen, and getting the consumers into the mix in a more dynamic way was key. Noting that the key would be to draw genre readers, this exhibitor said it was odd to see a business dramatically shifting to b-to-c continue to support a show that is still almost entirely b-to-b.
Yet others still believe the importance of BEA, and one reason it need not change, is that it’s still about getting booksellers excited about books. Adam Rothberg at Simon & Schuster eloquently explained that for him, the delight of the show remains in watching booksellers and writers come together. “I continue to be pleased by the fact that after all these years, after all this time, there still seems to be a magical spark that happens when booksellers get a chance to meet authors.”
Others at BEA found, in addition to drawing attention to forthcoming titles, a much-needed sense of industry solidarity. Educational Development Corp.’s Randall White said he was particularly struck by how many people came by his booth to offer support for his decision, earlier this year, to stop selling EDC’s titles on Amazon.
While many people PW Show Daily spoke to did not necessarily notice an actual uptick in attendance this year as opposed to last year, v-p of public relations at Harlequin, Katherine Orr, said she believed there were more people in Javits this time around. “I feel like this year’s show is supercharged,” she explained, noting that she thought the past two years had felt “dead.” Orr added that she thought the excitement around digital books and the “merging of digital and print” had brought back an excitement to the act of reading that hadn’t been felt at shows past.
For Steve Pace, director of sales at Workman, BEA always marks a welcome chance to get in front of the industry. He said Workman’s booth was “very busy, but we expect it to be very busy. We’ve got a lot of stuff to give away, and BEA is always a chance to put our best foot forward.”
Kudos to the Indies
For those who believe BEA is, and should remain, an event for getting authors and their books in front of independent booksellers, this year’s show was working on both sides of the aisle. As S&S’s Rothberg also noted: “If the purpose [of the show] is to put authors front and center, then there is still a utility to what we do here.” That utility, it seems, even in an industry known for being full of glass-is-half-empty folks, is felt. As Anne Storan, owner of Paragraphs Bookstore in Mt. Vernon, Ohio, put it: “There is a recognition that indies are more important than ever before when it comes to activating the cultural heart of this community by providing the quality content we’re discovering at this show.”