A re-energized independent bookseller segment contributed to a vibrant 2012 edition of the BookExpo America convention held June 4–7 at New York City’s Javits Center. Indie booksellers were encouraged by a boost in their numbers—ABA reported that over the past year the number of member bookstores has increased from 1,512 to 1,567 as of May 15; the number of locations rose from 1,823 to 1,900—and despite challenges posed by e-books, independent booksellers were more confident of their place in the industry ecosystem. On panels and in the exhibit hall, the important role booksellers of all kinds play in the “discoverability” of books was a frequent refrain.
Publishers seemed ready to stoke the indie fires by making more ARCs and galleys available than in recent years. “It was good to see booksellers loaded down with ARCs again,” said Munro Magruder of New World Library. With more free galleys and long lines for in-booth signings, customer traffic was heavy on the first two days, especially in the center of the hall where the major publishers were located. Preliminary figures from BEA parent company Reed Exhibitions put book buyer attendance (retailers, booksellers, librarians) at 14,057, up 5% from 2011.
Penguin Group USA president Susan Petersen Kennedy said Penguin had invested more in this show than in recent years. “We want to embrace the whole thing,” Kennedy said. “We want to see the show thrive.” Penguin kicked off BEA week with a Monday night party at the Algonquin hotel to mark its reopening. The party also served as the launch for Penguin Previews at the Roundtable, through which the publisher will make galleys of upcoming titles (with their authors) available to hotel guests once a quarter.
Random House chairman Markus Dohle was another head of house squarely pro-show. Dohle noted that in a time of transition, “It’s important that members from all corners of the industry have a chance to talk to each other.” BEA, Dohle elaborated, “enables us to showcase our authors while we engage with our retail partners on multiple topics.”
While the 2012 BEA received generally positive reviews, there was an acknowledgment that, like the industry it serves, the show is in a period of transition. One way Reed is looking to add a new element to the event is by adding a consumer component. On the final day of the exhibit, the public, in the form of “power readers,” was allowed in to the show. Even before Thursday, however, publishers were debating the benefits of that approach. Kennedy, for one, is a firm supporter. “Anything that helps readers discover books is important,” Kennedy said. “What’s so terrible about meeting with our customers?” The head of another large house, however, was dubious of the venture and questioned just how the logistics would work when what has been traditionally a business-to-business event adds a business-to-consumer element.
What actually happened when the power readers hit the show floor could provide support for both camps. For better or worse, the consumers were eager to snap up as many free galleys as possible. While there was no consensus among publishers on the floor, there was general agreement that if Consumer Day is to succeed, more work needs to be done, something that BEA officials readily acknowledge. Liz Perl, senior v-p, corporate marketing, at Simon & Schuster and who was on the Consumer Day steering committee, captured the conundrum the power reader idea represents. “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.”