The biggest complaint from attendees at this year’s BookCon literary fanfest was that it was too short. Held the day after BEA in Chicago’s McCormick Place, on May 14, attendees were thrilled to be in Chicago, and very happy with the venue, the programming, and the show’s logistics, but disappointed that this year’s event had been downsized to one day from last year’s two-day event. As for the participating publishers, many of whom had spent three days previously exhibiting at BEA, they were very satisfied with how the show went, but happy that for them it meant only one more day inside McCormick Place rather than two.
Based on pre-registration numbers, ReedPOP’s BookCon show manager Brien McDonald estimated that 7,000 attendees were at this year’s event. As in the two previous years in New York City, attendees skewed towards significantly more females than males, but the demographic was slightly older than last year, when large numbers of teenage girls turned out for Khloe Kardashian. The crowd this year appeared to be even more racially and ethnically diverse than last year’s crowd. There also seemed to be many more people from the Midwest and Canada, but fewer international attendees. Many of the East Coast attendees PW spoke to had attended BookCon in New York City.
Elizabeth Henry, 26, a blogger from Atlanta, who had attended BEA for the first time earlier in the week, was first in line for her second BookCon. She arrived at McCormick at 3:30 a.m. She praised BookCon staff and McCormick security personnel for the smooth traffic flow this time, explaining that last year’s BookCon had been “chaos, especially with the author lines,” with people wanting books signed in the autographing area being required to first purchase them at a pop-up bookstore. This resulted in many attendees not getting their books signed, because autographing sessions would end before they could get up to the front of those lines. “I lost three hours in Marissa Meyer’s line last year,” Henry said, noting that a wristband with YA author Cassandra Clare’s name on it was the get of the show, as “she doesn’t tour very often.”
This year, early arrivals stood in lines to receive wristbands as long as supplies lasted, each with an author name on it, guaranteeing the wearer entrance into that author’s autographing area sessions. Some of the 50 authors were signing free galleys there, while others were signing finished books, which were sold at the autographing table itself. While some authors required a book being purchased there for signing, others did not.
Henry and everyone else PW spoke to enjoyed attending BookCon in a different city, but, at the same time, wished that BookCon would have been two days again this year. “If you are from out of town, it’s hard to justify one day. We prefer the two days, although I love what we did this year,” Teri Hamlin of Houston said. She and her teenage daughter spent a few days sightseeing in Chicago before arriving at McCormick at 4:00 a.m. on Saturday.
“It’s very stressful, having it on one day: a lot of the [panels] I want to go to overlap,” said Marissa Rodriguez, a teen from Philadelphia. In contrast, publishers, such as Louisa Brody, Ingram senior manager of group marketing, said that BookCon’s compression into eight hours contributed to the “busyness and the excitement.”
The carnival-like atmosphere lasted throughout the day in the exhibit hall: aisles were jammed with people, and there were long lines everywhere, a constant barrage of noise from the stages, and occasional screams of joy. A number of publishers hosted “spin the [roulette] wheel” contests in their booths with ARCs and books given away as prizes. Others hosted in-booth author signings, with YA author Alexandra Bracken’s fans standing in line for hours before she appeared at Disney Publishing's booth. Simon & Schuster promoted “just a few authors” at BookCon. There was a Riveted (S&S’s YA readers community) photo booth and cloth bags, as well as a doughnut party with YA author Jenny Han and an ice cream social with YA author Morgan Matson. There were piles of Clare’s Mortal Instruments posters and other souvenirs that drew a constant stream of people by the booth, where some dropped off fan letters for Clare with Lucille Rettino, S&S v-p of marketing. Rettino reported more traffic into the booth this year than in 2015, and attributed it to the publisher’s strategy of scheduling in-booth events, as well as the giveaways. “It’s all about the swag,” she said.
Quarto Publishing Group, whose booth was closest to the main entrance into the exhibit hall, reported that their blank journal giveaways were gone in 15 minutes after the show opened.
While some publishers sold books, such as Abrams, which sold them for 50% off retail, others gave away books and ARCs. Some sold books but gave away galleys. Scholastic gave away both books and galleys of its hottest spring 2016 releases and featured a Muggle Wall where attendees were invited to write down what the Harry Potter series meant to them. The wall became almost a shrine, with just as many people writing comments as reading them as the day progressed. Scholastic marketing manager Lindsey Johnson explained that for Scholastic, its BookCon presence is, “all about forming relationships with readers.” And as Hachette director of marketing and publicity Jodi Rosoff noted, “It’s good to talk to [consumers], and hear where they’re at,” in terms of reading habits and preferences.
“We're thrilled with BookCon 2016,” McDonald told PW in an email. “And [we] are happy we could show the fans in Chicago what ReedPOP does in the book space. The positive energy in the building was undeniable; this was an energetic and engaged crowd. I noticed an evolution of publishers’ booth activities and am pleased to see they're harnessing the fan and media attention BookCon brings.”
BookCon will return to being a two-day event at the Javits Center in New York City, June 3-4, 2017.
Update: An earlier version of this story was incorrect re the first name of Louisa Brody, Ingram senior manager of group marketing and has been corrected.