While complaints abounded about air-conditioning and construction inside the Javits, book publishing professionals thought BEA was getting off to a promising start on Tuesday. Although a divide down the center of the main floor of the Javits Center had the effect of making the show look smaller and, at worst, obscuring the fact that the show is twice as big as it initially appears, many on the floor said that traffic was strong and a general excitement about e-books was buoying the mood.
Ben White, a sales rep for Macmillan, said he thought this year’s show was higher energy than last year’s and that the interest in e-books, and new technology, has brought “more buzz around the industry.” Although Macmillan’s biggest book of the fall, Jeffrey Eugenides’ anticipated novel The Marriage Plot, was not available—White said galleys are not quite ready—it didn’t negatively affect traffic.
Although some on the floor said the booksellers they encountered were upbeat, if “not ebullient” as Little, Brown publisher Michael Pietsch put it, those on the front lines seemed happy to be in New York. “I’m surrounded by just the people I want to be surrounded by. Everyone has a sense of connection with what they do,” said Valerie Lewis, co-owner of Hicklebee’s Children’s Books in San Jose, Calif. Another bookseller, Jennifer Seigle who works at Borders in York, Pa., noted that although her trip to BEA will not affect her buying decisions, she appreciated the chance to meet authors since she can then pass along “what they said about their book.”
Karen Walsh at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt said she’s taken more bookseller appointments this year, over last year, which was encouraging. “I’m pleasantly surprised,” she said, adding that the booksellers move “a lot of books and tie them in with school visits.”
Pietsch, who had sung the praises of Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding at Monday afternoon’s Editors Buzz Panel, said he was particularly excited to see how many women had shown up to get their galley signed by the first-time author, given that the book is, at least on the surface, about baseball. Noting that Hachette is having a particularly good run on the bestseller lists at the moment—among others there is Tina Fey’s Bossypants, Michael Connelly’s The Fifth Witness and Lawrence Block’s latest, A Drop of the Hard Stuff—Pietsch said that, ultimately, BEA evidences, that for everyone at the houses and in the bookstores, “the thrill of finding new writers remains strong.”
Brian Murray, CEO of HarperCollins, said he felt there was palpable excitement in the air off of the two recent announcement coming from B&N, first about Liberty Media’s offer to buy the company and then about the newest iteration of the Nook. Both announcement, he felt, are “positive developments for the industry.” And Josh Marwell, president of sales at HC, said he thought the busy crowds on Tuesday were thanks in large part to all the pre-show scheduling. Between the educational programming at the show on Monday, and IDPF, Marwell said that the show felt like it was well underway, instead of just getting off the ground, by mid-afternoon Tuesday.
Michelle Blankenship, at Bloomsbury, was glad to see “librarians out in such force,” particularly given all the glum news of late about library budgets being slashed. She also added that many of the independent booksellers she talked to seemed “hopeful.”
Pulling a statistic that defies any notion publishing is dying, or even floundering, Workman group publisher Bob Miller said the fact that 1 billion books were sold last year is good news and that it speaks to how “there’s room to connect those book with readers.” Miller, who called the show “very busy,” said the irony of BEA is that the conversation is all about digital at a show entirely dedicated to physical books. The effect is a “schizophrenic” one, he noted, adding that now technology is creeping its way into all conversations. “I think everyone is looking for ways to use technology to build their businesses.”