What a difference a year makes! Last May, the Dow was well over 13,000; the campaigns of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were squabbling over unseated delegates, and Sarah Palin was a nobody. In publishing, 39-year-old Markus Dohle was about to take the reins at Random House, Kindle was a curiosity and Twitter was the nobody. “It's a time of uncertainty and of overall economic concern,” ventured S&S's David Rosenthal on the eve of the BEA in L.A. A year later, it is a time of something else—let's leave it at change—and BookExpo 2009, to be held May 28-31 at the Javits Convention Center in New York, is all about change, according to BEA director Lance Fensterman.
Faced with a reeling economy, a battered retail sector and an industry in transition, Fensterman has turned to what he sees as a principle strength of the show. “BEA is connectivity,” says Fensterman, “and authors are our greatest strength.” This year convention-goers will have authors served up in a new and flashy way—on Author Stages set up on either end of the exhibit hall—designed, says Fensterman, to create buzz, but also “to keep people on the show floor where the business is.” Fensterman hopes to model for publishers a change of strategy. “Content comes first, today more than ever. We want to show that this is a marketing and promotional show about content, and about finding—and literally building—platforms to allow authors to make an impact on the tastemakers in the room.” For the Author Stages, groups of authors will be interviewed by a host, and each discussion will center on a topic—Charles McGrath will talk to John Irving and Pat Conroy about literary lionhood, for example, and Ben Moser will discuss biography with William Mann (Elizabeth Taylor) and Terry Teachout (Louis Armstrong). The stages will operate all day on Friday and Saturday, and the scheduling is still in the works. Continuing the Authors R Us theme, all authors at the show—there are more than 700 in some official capacity—will have special badges identifying them as such, to facilitate impromptu conversations. Authors as walking content, if you will.
The perennially popular book-and-author breakfasts and lunches will continue, on Friday (children's breakfast), Saturday (adult breakfast and lunch) and Sunday (adult lunch), with such heavyweights as Conroy, Richard Russo, Meg Cabot and Ken Auletta, plus some rarer literary sightings like Lorrie Moore and Pete Dexter.
The most celebrated author to be honored at BEA 2009 hasn't actually published a book yet, but he has landed a plane in the nearby Hudson. Captain Chesley Sullenberger III will address attendees on Saturday at 3 p.m. from an Author Stage as yet undetermined—but Sully will probably land where he sees fit. His publisher, William Morrow, will make available a promotional piece that the captain will be happy to autograph.
In another nod to “connectivity,” the BEA has cut in half the number of panels in its own programming (beginning Thursday), focusing on, as Fensterman puts it, “quality not quantity,” and again giving attendees more time to connect with exhibitors, authors and colleagues on the show floor.
Here are some of the other new twists and a sampling of the special events at the show.
ABA Day of Education returns to the show venue. Two years ago, the ABA meetings took place in Brooklyn at the BEA hotel there, but this year, the program will take place at the Javits Center, which will enable booksellers to attend the other Thursday events, including a rockin' keynote address duet, the Buzz Panel and a CEO panel.
CEO Roundtable (3 p.m.): None other than the Daily Beast's Tina Brown will moderate a discussion with heads of houses, with S&S's Carolyn Reidy confirmed as of press time.
Editor's Buzz Panel (4:15 p.m.). This popular panel, consisting of selected editors talking about their books, is back to Thursday after a two-year hiatus, when it ran later in the show. Fensterman says it was obvious that the panel generated a lot of energy and he wanted it back to the start of the show to maximize its impact. This year, John Freeman, Granta's American editor, will host a group of editors selected by the BEA advisory committee—Paul Elie, FSG; Deb Futter, Grand Central; Alexis Gargagliano, Scribner; Harriet Popham Rigney, Tor; Ben Sevier, Dutton; Bob Weil, Norton.
This year's Keynote will have a musician's theme, if not a musical one, as Steven Tyler of Aerosmith fame and Clarence Clemons of the E-Street Band will discuss their new books at 5:30 in the Special Events Hall.
Children's Book & Author Breakfast: Meg Cabot, Tomie dePaola, Amy Krause Rosenthal and Julie Andrews Edwards, 8 a.m. in the Special Events Hall.
Young Adult Editor's Buzz Panel: New this year, the buzz panel for YA books, chaired by Scholastic's David Levithan, will feature Arthur Levine of Arthur A. Levine Books; Ari Lewin, Disney-Hyperion; Krista Marino, Delacorte; Mark Siegel, First Second Books; Liz Szabla, Feiwel and Friends; Tara Weikum, HarperCollins.
Big Ideas: The BEA's list of panels, though fewer in number this year, has several that promise to be much talked about. One such may be “The 800-Pound Gorilla in the Room,” which will tackle, in two parts, Google and alternative sources of e-book income. Another panel, just as enticingly titled, is “Jumping Off a Cliff: What Publishers Can Learn from the Music Industry,” organized by PW's own Mark Rotella and Andrew Albanese. The Long Tail's Chris Anderson and Scribd CEO Trip Adler are among the panelists.
More books, more authors, another breakfast: Tracy Kidder, Jeannette Walls, Ben Mezrich and Craig Ferguson talk about their new books, with funnyman Ferguson hosting, at 8 a.m. in the Special Events Hall.
Luncheon, too, at noon, with Pat Conroy, Lorrie Moore, Dan Pink and Ken Auletta, with Auletta as emcee.
Bob Miller of Harper Studio will host a panel on “Stupid Things Booksellers and Publishers Do,” which promises to be “no-holds barred but instructive,” centering on the worst mistakes each side thinks the other is making
One last breakfast, this one hosted by that Morning Joe Scarborough, featuring Richard Russo, Gail Collins, Pete Dexter. The Collins-Joe repartee might be caffeine enough.
Meet the Bestsellers: There ought to be a special badge for these megaselling athors, Nicholas Sparks and David Baldacci. Seating is limited at this event, to be held in rooms 1A10, 1A12, 1A14. Signed copies of their new books will be available and a complimentary lunch, courtesy of Grand Central Publishing.