BookExpo America ended its Wednesday–Friday run last week at New York City’s Javits Center before giving way to the consumer-oriented BookCon, held at Javits over the May 30–31 weekend. Both BEA and BookCon are run by Reed Exhibitions, which chose to make BEA a bit more compact this year by not scheduling any panels the day before the exhibitor floor opened, in a bid to not burden exhibitors who chose to participate in both shows. As a result, BEA kicked off with its own set of educational sessions, as well as the IDPF Digital Book conference, on Wednesday morning; the show floor opened at 1 p.m. Despite advanced word about the delayed opening, it seemed to catch some booksellers by surprise. Pam Cady, manager of the general books department at University Book Store in Seattle, said she was excited about this year’s BEA, although she added that she found the afternoon opening “weird.”
Traffic on the floor seemed a bit lighter than usual on the opening day, but the crowds picked up on Thursday, with long lines in the autographing areas and at publishers’ stands, where booksellers and librarians waited for signed copies from a host of authors. Some attendees also felt the half-day opening was a good way to ease into the event, noting it was easier to cover more booths without fighting a crowded floor. On Friday, the floor was busier than on the last days of the most recent shows and even towards late afternoon the remaining attendees did not appear in a hurry to leave.
One of the most notable aspects of BEA 2015 was the large presence of China. The country had a 25,000-sq.-ft. pavilion that housed more than 500 publishers and authors. The pavilion occupied space from aisles 1,000 to 1,800 and was so large one could easily get lost exploring the display. In addition to the pavilion, the Chinese hosted numerous panel discussions about publishing in China and also conducted a range of cultural events. If the goal of the Chinese was to make an impression on Western publishers, they seemed to have succeeded. At one panel discussion, Association of American Publishers president Tom Allen observed that the effort the Chinese put into the BEA program was tremendous. At the same panel, Richard Charkin, Bloomsbury’s director of publishing as well as president of the International Publishers Association, remarked that China has become an “integral part of the international publishing community.” Both men attributed China’s increased standing in the book world in part to a greater respect within the country for copyright.
The steadily growing book market is another important factor in China’s greater prominence. Wu Shangzi, vice minister of State Administration of Press, Publishing, Radio, Film and Television for China, noted that even though sales growth slowed somewhat in 2014—total sales were up about 7% with digital sales up almost 25%, compared to 2013—the slowdown reflected a move from “quantity to quality.” Clay Stobaugh, executive v-p and chief marketing officer for John Wiley, offered three predictions for the Chinese publishing market: China will become the center for digital innovation, the global demand for Chinese content will continue to expand, and in order to feed its “talent pipeline,” Chinese publishers will continue to look to the West for training.
The large China BEA presence was not without its critics. The PEN American Center put together a Shadow Expo on May 26 and 27, hoping to highlight the lack of free expression within the country. The group also demanded an end to censorship and called for the release of all writers imprisoned for their work.
BEA always sees different parts of the book community announce new projects and major initiatives. Perhaps the most important announcement this year came from the Authors Guild, which kicked off a new Fair Contract Initiative on Thursday with a champagne reception. According to the guild, the initiative will feature a series of commentaries to be published in the coming months that take a “fresh look at the standard book publishing contract.”
“Our guiding principle for this new initiative is to restore balance to the author-publisher relationship and help authors achieve a fair return for the efforts they contribute to the joint venture of book publication,” the guild said in a written statement. Among the terms included in most boilerplate contracts that the guild finds unacceptable is the 25% royalty on e-book sales.
The slowing growth of e-book sales was a topic of discussion in panels and on the exhibit floor. In his presentation on the state of the e-book market, Jonathan Stolper, senior v-p of Nielsen’s U.S. book business, noted that according to Nielsen’s PubTrack Digital report, which tracks e-book sales from more than 30 top publishers (for more on PubTrack Digital, see p. 7), e-book units fell 6% in 2014 compared to 2013. When comparing e-book unit sales from PubTrack Digital with those from Nielsen’s BookScan point-of-sale data on sale of print books, Nielsen found that e-books accounted for 26% of trade unit sales last year, down from 28% in 2013.
The slowing growth in e-book sales is one factor in the improving fortunes of independent booksellers. In his annual report to the membership of the American Booksellers Assocation, ABA CEO Oren Teicher said that for the sixth year in a row the number of independent bookstores has grown. ABA added 48 members, for a total of 1,712, up from a core membership of 1,401 in 2009. The total number of locations also grew to 2,227, from 1,651 in 2009. Teicher further pointed out that sales at independent bookstores were up for 47 out of 52 weeks in 2014. In addition to slowing e-book sales, Teicher cited growing buy-local movements and publishers’ willingness to rethink outmoded business practices as key ingredients for indie booksellers’ gains. But he acknowledged that challenges still remain. “The actions of some publishers, at times, seem as if they are so focused on the short-term gains of direct sales to consumers that they lose sight of the much greater potential that comes from directing those sales to indie bookstores.”
There were plenty of books for booksellers and librarians to learn about at BEA. Among the most talked about at this year’s show were two novels, one from a debut author, Garth Risk Hallberg’s City On Fire (Knopf, Oct.), and another from a seasoned veteran, Jonathan Franzen’s Purity (FSG, Sept.). Hallberg’s 900-page book sold for nearly $2 million in 2013 and was one of the titles discussed at the Adult Editors’ Buzz Panel, on May 27, the opening day of the convention. Another book featured on the panel was Home Is Burning (Flatiron, Oct.), Dan Marshall’s memoir about his experience moving home to Salt Lake City, along with his siblings, to care for his cancer-stricken mother and his terminally ill father. The book, despite its bleak circumstances, is “absolutely hilarious,” according to Flatiron Books editorial director Colin Dickerman. Alison Callahan, executive editor at Scout Press, a new literary fiction imprint at Simon & Schuster’s Gallery Books, touted the press’s launch title: Ruth Ware’s In a Dark Dark Wood (Aug.), a psychological thriller Callahan compared to Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train.
At the YA Editors’ Buzz Panel on May 28, Arianne Lewin, executive editor at Putnam BFYR, championed Nightfall, by Jake Halpern and Peter Kujawinski (Oct.). The book, described by Lewin as “part horror story, part love story, part mystery, all in a world that feels real,” is set on an island where 14 years of daylight are followed by 14 years of darkness. Dreams Things True, by Marie Marquardt (St. Martin’s Griffin, Sept.), is both a love story and an immigration story; associate editor Laura Chasen said the author humanizes the hot-button immigration issue. In addition to the titles at the buzz panel, several booksellers were eagerly awaiting Ernest Cline’s Armada (Crown, July). “[Cline’s] Ready Player One was such a great YA crossover,” said Becky Anderson, owner of Anderson’s Bookshop in Naperville, Ill. “This is going to be another great crossover for teens.”
Even before the 2015 edition of BEA wrapped up, talk turned to next year’s show, which will run from May 11 to 13 in Chicago. It will be the first BEA held outside of New York City since 2008, when the show took place in Los Angeles. The move was prompted by several factors, including the lack of suitable dates at Javits and requests from booksellers to hold BEA somewhere less expensive than New York. The change of venue has caused some grumbling, especially from overseas publishers, but the new dates are even more problematic. Next year, BEA will begin less than one month after the London Book Fair (which ends April 14), putting pressure on publishers attending both events. Reed, which organizes BEA, said that BookCon will also move to Chicago and will be held on May 14. Reed has no plans to host a full-scale BookCon in New York in 2016, although it may organize some sort of book-related event there in the spring.
For more BEA coverage, go to publishersweekly.com/bea.
Correction: An earlier version of this article listed the wrong publisher of Jonathan Franzen's next novel. It is FSG, not Knopf.