Is BEA worth it? That question has been whispered among industry types for years when the topic turns to the goliath of business trade shows, BookExpo America. The question resurfaced when Nashville-based religion publisher Thomas Nelson announced last week that it is dropping out of the show. Nelson, which will also skip ICRS, the Christian equivalent to BEA, said that the “economic downturn” forced the house to rethink its marketing budget. The first things to go? Trade show appearances, which Nelson president Michael Hyatt said “provide very little return on a very significant investment.”
So what are other publishers thinking? PW talked to various people in the industry and most said BEA still matters, even though it is so costly.
“We do think about the worth of BEA—all the time. The costs are excessive, and more and more so,” said Algonquin publisher Elisabeth Scharlatt. “Still, meeting with booksellers is always a pleasure and, for Algonquin, the feedback is just great and helpful.” This is why the house keeps going back.
However, an executive staffer at a major house, where the deeper pockets are less affected by the cost of doing business at the show, acknowledged that BEA “probably isn’t worth it for what it costs,” although the house is an exhibitor this year. Another staffer, at a mid-size house that also will attend the L.A. show, questioned the timing of the show: “June is really too late to sway some of the biggest accounts.”
Deb Seager at Grove Atlantic said her house is taking only one booth this year, after having two at last year’s BEA. The smaller space, she said, is because the show is less and less about selling foreign rights, with so many people doing business in London and Frankfurt. Nonetheless, she said, “It’s still important for us to interact with booksellers and librarians,” and she added that a lot of publicity can be done at the trade show.
Terry Nathan, executive director of PMA, which represents over 4,000 small publishers, said the company is taking the same amount of space as it did last year even though member participation fell short of what it was the last time BEA was on the West Coast. “I was hopeful,” Nathan added, “but it did not happen.”
“This business partly involves being in the right place at the right time with the right books,” said Allan Kornblum, publisher of Coffee House Press. This is why he ponies up the money for the trade show. “The booth is expensive, the labor is expensive, the hotels are expensive—but when you add it all up, I think it’s still a good opportunity. A literary press is looking for timelessness, but timeliness doesn’t hurt. And BEA remains one of the places to be with our books, at least as I see it.”
And while the invitations for many of the BEA events have yet to arrive in mailboxes, it doesn’t seem that Nelson’s departure is any indication that there will be less to do at BEA. David Steinberger said the always stellar PGW party is still on, and that BEA remains what it’s always been: “an important opportunity to spend time with booksellers.”