The first attempt by BookExpo America show organizers to let the public into the event was, not surprisingly, something of a mixed bag. Interviews with so-called “power readers” who (mostly) paid their way into BEA Thursday found a group happy to be a part of the country’s most important book event. Publisher reaction, however, was more complicated.

Ann Tufariello was one of several people had taken a class with Gotham Writers and received an invitation from them to attend BEA (the public needed to receive an invitation before registering for the event). Tufariello lives in New Jersey and has written a couple middle grade books that came out from a small press. "I've wanted to come for a long time,” she said. “It's overwhelming. My general intention was to see what I could learn about publishing in 2012 and experience it."

Suzanna Filip was another power reader who heard about BEA from Gotham Writers. "I just graduated with my MFA from Stony Brook and I got an e-mail from Gotham Writers. I started this morning with the author breakfast. I had the BEA mobile app and yesterday I planned out what I wanted to see." She thought $45 wasn't much to spend given how many books she planned to take.

A woman who asked to be anonymous, and who works for Barnes & Noble, got a free ticket and told PW she was looking forward to getting more ARCs at the show.

Another anonymous woman had attended New York ComicCon and was on the e-mail list. She and her friend, Katherine Tiedemann, came together. "We're avid readers. I'm having impulse control problems," she said.

A retired librarian, who got in free had this to say about her route to BEA: "I live in New York City and am a subscriber to the New York Public Library e-newsletter. I was reading the newsletter yesterday and saw it. Who's going to come on a weekday at such short notice? I called some of my friends, who are also retired, but nobody could come. I was going to do the laundry. Because I'm a retired librarian I knew what it would be."

With one exception, publishers who spoke to PW said the first time event went reasonably well, but said much more need to be done if it is to be a regular part of BEA. Heather Fain, v-p, marketing at Little Brown, said, “Consumer Day seems like a valuable marketing tool. If we can turn these people in to fans of our authors, I’m in favor of it.” Hain said that there were a few Power Readers in line this morning to meet Michael Kortya, and they were enthusiastic and seemed honored to be at BEA. “Kortya is an author we’re building, and this is just one more way of getting his name and his work out there,” she said. “Anything to keep the show fresh is worth it. Publishers are already direct to consumer marketers, anyway.”

Liz Perl, senior v-p corporate marketing at Simon & Schuster and who was on the Consumer Day steering committee, said the future of the event will come down to execution. “I’m open to the concept if it helps to keep the show relevant. It’s the execution that’s the struggle,” she said. How much promotional material should we bring? How many power readers should we let in?” Perl’s concerns revolve around logistics and nuts and bolts issues. “It’s a resource management issue,” she said, musing that maybe Consumer Day “should become a separate day at BEA altogether.”

Craig Popelars, marketing director at Algonquin, was more leery. “It’s important for publishers to have time with librarians and booksellers. This could become a distraction that pulls us away from them,” he said. “This isn’t the venue to bridge the gap between our books and our readers.” Popelars appreciates the experiment of Consumer Day, “but there has to be a consensus about it among the publishers.”

One anonymous publisher had a bad first try. “They stole books from our booth,” this publisher said. “They interrupted our meetings and were rude.”

More in the middle was Lara Staar, publicist with Chronicle Books. “Honestly, we were dreading Consumer Day – the readers are coming; oh no! But none of our fears have been realized. They’ve been lovely and respectful. My concern is the vetting process. I’m not sure who these people are. I heard that they were invited by indie bookstores, where they’re regular customers and book club members, and they do seem like readers. The benefit to this is that these folks will get the conversation started on the titles they hear about today.”