While publishers visiting from abroad are delighted by the level of traffic at BEA, there is a growing chorus of disapproval that the show was cut from three days to two without consultation with overseas publishers and without offer of a refund. The discontent is fueled by what’s perceived to be a lack of clarity on the Web site (which refers to a three-day event) and elsewhere as to what precisely is happening when. Some publishers arrived for meetings Tuesday only to find they were unable to gain access to the floor without an exhibitor pass.
Sara Ballard, deputy managing director and rights director of Amber Books, has been coming to BEA for 15 years. She and her colleagues would normally have back-to-back appointments for two-and-a-half days, which left sufficient time for follow-up meetings and for the Amber team to walk the floor. “Now it’s very intense. There is no time for follow-up and no time to wander,” she said. Indeed, a number of publishers reported being unable to find a slot for all those who wanted a meeting, let alone accommodate new clients. Bookshop buyers were similarly time-strapped.
Many publishers had arranged meetings for Tuesday unaware that only the International Rights Center and the remainder area was open for business. “I’m starting to feel aggrieved,” said one. “If you spend a fraction of the cost on a table at the rights centre you can have a permanent base for three days, but spend a fortune on a large stand and you get only two days of trading. Why the special treatment?”
In common with many others, Ballard feels that three full days are needed in order not simply to deal with existing partners and planned appointments but also to prospect for new clients. She is considering taking a table in the IRC as well next year but worried that having a presence in two places would simply confuse international clients. “And anyway you can’t display your books up there. We spend a fortune shipping 200 books out and we want people to be able to see them.” Moreover, the mid-week timing jacks up flight costs for those arriving from London: even in January, economy returns on both BA and Virgin were going for around £1,000, in part because the dates coincided with a school holiday, which puts pressure on seat availability which means airlines increase their prices.
With the exchange rate no longer as favourable for the British – a few years ago the pound bought almost two dollars – many said they would need to consider their options: “We are now starting to question whether it is worth continuing to exhibit as it has become extremely expensive for just two days’ of meetings,” said one publisher who declined to be named. Anne Dolamore of cookery specialist Grub Street , a long-time BEA stalwart, decided ahead of time that it wasn’t, “especially since American publishers are buying diddly-squat”.
The irony is of course that, with London buried under the ash cloud and many publishers scrambling to make late bookings for New York, BookExpo could really have cleaned up and perhaps whetted the appetite of new exhibitors for the years ahead. As it is, Reed Exhibitions may have played in to the hands of their sworn enemies – Frankfurt.