The debut of BookCon on the last day of this year’s BookExpo America was a solid one, but there was room for improvement, especially in terms of crowd control. That was the overwhelming sentiment among the dozen-plus publishers that PW spoke with about the launch of the consumer-oriented event. “It did feel like the debut event was a victim of its own success,” said Jim Hanas, director of audience development at HarperCollins. “The place was overly crowded and disorganized.”
While publishers were thrilled by the large turnout and the chance to interact with readers, they were unhappy about the chaos created by the 10,000 visitors to the section of BEA that was carved out for BookCon. “Crowd and line management are obvious concerns that [BEA/BookCon organizer] Reed should focus on,” said Erin Coffey, v-p, internal communications, event and community services at Macmillan.
Publishers with smaller booths were particularly concerned about the many long lines at BookCon, as a number of those lines blocked attendees from getting to their booths. “At times the crowds were driving away other business,” said Cynthia Sherry, publisher of Chicago Review Press. Publishers also complained about the fact that consumers seemed to assume that all books on display were free for the taking, resulting in more “shrinkage” than usual.
Most publishers, however, said they would return to BookCon next year—albeit with a very different plan. “We did not know what to expect so we planned for every possible scenario,” said New Harbinger Publications sales director Julie Kahn. “We did not anticipate such a young crowd, so when we participate again next year it will be much more focused.” Jack Jensen, president of Chronicle Books, had a very similar reaction, observing that “we should have had two or three things for the consumer to purchase, and that will be fixed next year.”
Other publishers talked about the need to match what they will offer to the audience at next year’s BookCon. Tom Hallock, associate publisher of Beacon Press, said that there were teachers and librarians at the fair who were interested in the press’s nonfiction work. Hallock, like most publishers who plan to return next year, said he will likely change his BookCon booth display to feature titles that are on sale, rather than forthcoming books. Liz Perl, executive director, marketing at Simon & Schuster, said that S&S, too, will likely bring more current and backlist titles to BookCon next year.
Reed executives have not yet made a final decision on how BEA and BookCon will interact in 2015. Next year’s BEA is set to run from Thursday, May 28, to Saturday, May 30, and will once again be at the Javits Center in New York City. At present, Reed is thinking of adding a second day to BookCon, expanding the show into Sunday, while keeping the trade area open through Saturday.
Reed’s announcement of a potential second BookCon day met with a cool response, at least initially. “Two days would be too much,” said CRP’s Sherry. “We spend so much money on the booth space, that, for me, the best business is meeting booksellers, media, and agents.”
Peachtree Press president Margaret Quinlin said she hopes Reed doesn’t keep BookCon open through Sunday, citing the cost and logistical problems that the change would cause for many smaller presses. “I would strongly support the continuation of the BookCon experiment, but only for Saturday,” she noted.
Publishers also urged Reed executives to develop a clear message for what they want BookCon to be, if only to help them fine-tune their offerings. “I’m not sure publishers have figured out what exactly we are trying to do here yet,” said Beacon’s Hallock. “Is there a kind of World Book Night philosophy of promoting reading or introducing new authors by giving away books? Are we trying to build lists for direct to consumer marketing? Or will this ultimately become a sales event? I’m not sure.”