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CBA Confab in Transition; Future Still Uncertain
Leah Eichler -- 6/26/00

The buzz at this year's Canadian Bookseller's Association convention and trade show focused primarily on two topics: the CBA's last-minute cancellation of its agreement to sell the trade show to Reed (News, June 19) and the 7,000-pound elephant brought in as a publicity stunt by Stoddart Publishing. Unfortunately, more information was available about the 38-year-old pachyderm named Limba than the CBA's potential deal with Key Media.

The exhibition did not show many signs of strain, considering the confusion about the sale and the CBA's recent announcement in its annual report that it had lost C$250,000 over the past fiscal year. Yet the trade show--which was one day shorter this year--exhibited signs of transition. There were fewer parties, scaled-down exhibits and little buzz on any particular fall title. Even Margaret Atwood's latest novel, The Blind Assassin, didn't seem to generate a stir, although many were eager to catch a glimpse of Buzz Aldrin, there to promote his book The Return. But from a business standpoint, it was business as usual. "Some people have reduced their space, but I think everybody is here," said Jack Stoddart, chairman of Stoddart Publishing.

Many publishers and booksellers interviewed felt their purpose in attending the show was met--even if that purpose was to just show their face. "The show is more for information and to be present," said David Cleary of Lone Pine Publishing in Edmonton, Alberta, adding that he attends the CBA in order to gauge potential publishing trends.

The attendance figures were not yet available, but the crowd did seem smaller than the 5,000 delegates, guests and exhibitors that showed up over the five-day period last year, according to the CBA's Web site. Sheryl McKean, executive director of CBA, insisted that this year's attendance was higher. "There are more people at a steady pace than I think we have seen in a long, long time," McKean said.

Electronic publishers and products did not play as large a part at the convention compared to BookExpo America. The Booksellers/Publishers Forum did focus on e-books, but the presentation, conducted by Andersen Consulting, primarily referred to an American market study, leaving many bookstore owners wondering where they fit in.

Publishing Online did manage to sign its first Canadian deals at the show. The Seattle-based company will begin to distribute the electronic versions of titles from Insomniac Press and Between the Lines by mid-July. Dahlia Riback, Publishing Online's Canadian representative, said she is actively talking to publishers across the country to help them establish an electronic presence.

Nonbook products seemed to be readily available, including vintage CBC radio shows from the '40s, '50s and '60s by a relatively new company called Scenario Productions. Their product differs from audio books by offering a full cast of characters and an orchestra. But not too many sales were generated. "We came here so people would know that we exist--that's the most important thing," explained Mark Bornstein, publisher of Scenario Productions.

Annick Press and Red Deer Press celebrated their 25th anniversaries at the show, while Thomas Allen and Son celebrated its first year back as a publisher of its own titles. "It's a minor miracle that we've been able to come up with four very salable and exciting titles for this fall," said the company's president, T. James Allen.

For the finale, Random House of Canada threw a cocktail party to celebrate its new home, its "New Face of Fiction" program and the launch of its Canadian Web site. The day after the show, Random House also hosted a mini-sales conference for booksellers. The new initiative gave independent booksellers the opportunity to have Random House editors from New York pitch upcoming titles--a nice touch to remind independents of their importance.
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