By 6 a.m., three hours before the doors to the much debated, much anticipated BookCon was officially set to open on Saturday, May 31, (the final day of BookExpo America), 300 people were already waiting for the start of the inaugural consumer book show. By 8 a.m., “you couldn’t fit a piece of paper between people,” Brien McDonald, director of strategic accounts for BEA, said of the crowd. Earlier in the week Lance Fensterman, global vice president for ReedPOP which organized BookCon, had told the New York Times, “We are all about uncontrolled chaos,” and that certainly seemed the case in the first minutes of the show when the most commonly heard comment from attendees was some version of “what’s this line for? This was in stark contrast to the other side of the Javits Center where the traditional slow third day of the conference was even more pronounced.
Within a short amount of time though, a more controlled chaos ensued with long lines full of eager fans who overall didn’t seem fazed at all but the crowds. One fan, Tracy – who waited over an hour and a half to see Cary Elwes, the actor and author of As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride – told PW that it was “definitely worth it. “It’s wonderful to get up close and personal with authors.” Another avid reader, Alichia had taken a long early train ride from Long Island, called BookCon “a madhouse.” She had attended PowerReader day last year and felt it was much better organized. “The lines are soooooo long,” she commented and blamed the large number of kids who paid so much less and were crowding the aisles. Still, an excited smile emerged when she reeled off some of the authors whom she was able to meet: R.L. Stine, Jeanine Frost, Nicky Hilton, and H.M. Ward to name a few.
Indeed, the floor was dominated by kids from pre-teens to teenagers, who were overwhelmingly female. While the target demographic had all along been young women, Fensterman acknowledged that the demographic was younger with a more pronounced ratio of women to men than their original estimates.
While publishers use the conference as a platform to promote and build excitement for fall books, she explained, consumers are interested in books that are available now.
After two years of experimentation with consumers at BEA, skepticism abounded among publishers before this year’s BookCon was launched, but they were hopeful about learning who are their most passionate readers. If the chaos and crowds were a problem, it was “a good problem,” as Roger Bilheimer, a spokesperson for BEA pointed out. He emphasized the programming that he believes “is successfully building good relationships not only between readers and authors but between publishers and authors."
Prior to the show there was concern about, as Liz Psaltis, director of marketing for Gallery Books and Pocket Books put it, “the gear shift of focus from BEA to BookCon." But Psaltis, echoing the sentiments of others, was elated to be experiencing a real opportunity to “hand sell books and talk directly to readers.” Ellie Berger, president of the Scholastic trade division, was happy with the initial BookCon, but said Scholastic will make changes for the 2015 event. "Next year we’ll be more strategic, based on the experience today. There are more kids, librarians, and educators today than the last two days, a very different crowd that we’re glad to see," Berger said.
With so many young women in attendance, Harlequin had a busy BookCon. “It’s fantastic. This is a great way for our fans to meet our authors, and we brought 12 authors today, from romance to teen novels. It’s very different today, with more of a buzz about the books that’s so contagious. I’ve never seen anything like this before. It’s inspiring to see how passionate the young readers are.” said Harlequin's Michelle Renaud.
As evidenced by the cheers and overflow crowds for Veronica Roth and John Green, young readers treat their favorite authors like rock stars. Instead of knowing the songs, readers know the characters and the books and bring a frenzied enthusiasm previously thought to be reserved for the likes of Justin Timberlake and Katy Perry. “Pop star” doesn’t just mean “rock star” anymore.
Little, Brown gave away 500 copies of Michael Kortya's The Prophet, to fans. "It’s been great to engage with readers directly. We really feel like booksellers, handselling,” said Miriam Parker, online marketing director for Little, Brown.
On every level – literally and figuratively, BookCon was a sell-out with executives forced to cap attendance at 10,000. While admitting that the logistics weren’t perfect, Fensterman said, “the energy was there.” Noting that all of the wide range of events in the 1,500 person Special Events Hall were filled to capacity, Fensterman said that BookCon has “opened things up content-wise.” Publishers now know that they can bring “anyone and anything who is going to pack the 1,500-person theater.”
Reed executives are expected to announce plans for the 2015 BEA/BookCon configuration in a day or two. Initial plans call for keeping a three-day trade show and adding a second day for BookCon on Sunday.
With reporting by Wendy Werris.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the title of a book written by Cary Elwes. It is As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride, not The Princess Bride.