It’s more “intimate,” it’s closer to home (for some), and it puts a spotlight on the “sometimes overlooked Chicago and Midwest publishing scene.” This is what some BEA attendees had to say about this year’s show, back in the Windy City for the first time in 12 years. But, for all those excited about the change of venue, others expressed reticence about what’s lost when the event leaves its standing locale of New York City.
The move to Chicago has meant a smaller show. Reed Exhibitions, which oversees BEA, does not release preliminary attendance numbers, but estimates in the press put the exhibition space on this year’s show floor down nearly 20% from last year’s show at the Javits Center in New York. Certainly the major New York City publishers have a smaller presence at this year’s show, having sent fewer staff members, put on fewer parties, and set up smaller booths.
Nonetheless, as many attendees pointed out, BEA is not only for the major publishers. Reed’s Brien McDonald, who is overseeing this year’s show, said the size of this BEA “isn’t a surprise,” nor is it reason for concern. “We knew that the move would shrink the show floor a bit, but the real value is in the new audience.”
When asked if he was concerned about the fact that the change of venue resulted in fewer high profile authors and celebrities headlining this year’s show—a complaint among some attendees—McDonald said this year is “our most diverse” and reflects “the discovery BookExpo can provide.”
And, speaking to the notion that moving the show to Chicago was bringing in a different crowd, McDonald pointed out that over 1,000 new attendees from the Midwest are attending this year’s BEA, and that the show saw a 10% increase in VIP attendees.
Many booksellers who don’t often make the trip to New York City for BEA came out to Chicago this year, according to American Booksellers Association CEO Oren Teicher, noting that 65% of the ABA members attending this year’s show have not been to BEA in the past two years. Teicher said that the stat “validates the whole idea of moving the show around.”
While Teicher acknowledged that BEA leaving New York is something the major publishers are "concerned about,” he appreciates the show tipping its hat to the fact that the industry exists beyond the boundaries of Manhattan. “We’re a national business, and our members are everywhere. It’s not that we don’t love New York; it’s expensive.”
Aside from the trip to Chicago taking a smaller bite out of their wallets, many booksellers said they were relieved at the change of pace. “It’s a nice excuse to see a city and, by extension, bookstores, that I am far less familiar with,” said Jake Cumsky-Whitlock of Kramerbooks & Afterwards in Washington, D.C.
Michael Tucker, president and CEO of San Francisco’s Books Inc., said having the show repeatedly in New York was getting tiresome. It was becoming, he said, “a little too much like the horse coming back to the barn.” He then added: “I hope we see more booksellers from other parts of the country.”
For those on the show floor Wednesday afternoon, shortly after the show opened, steady traffic was an encouraging sign.
“So far, so good,” said Heather Fain, director of marketing strategy for Hachette Book Group, when asked how the show was shaping up early on. Although Fain admitted that the show is more costly for a house like Hachette, when it’s not in New York, she said the move was allowing them to experiment with different ways of staffing the event, testing how many employees they need to effectively run their booth.
Russell Perreault, publicity director at Penguin Random House’s Vintage Anchor imprint, said he was loving being in Chicago. “It’s nice to go back to your hotel, instead of your apartment,” he said. For him, having BEA move around is a good thing. Among other things, he noted, it gives publishers a chance to see “different booksellers.”
Heather Doss, national accounts manager at HarperCollins, said she appreciated the roomier feel McCormick Place offered, as compared to the Javits Center in New York City. “I don’t feel like the aisles are as crammed,” she said. “It could be that there’s less traffic or fewer publishers [here], but it’s easier to get around. And all the bloggers and accounts I’ve talked to seem to be happy.”
Ellen Adler, publisher of New Press, wasn’t aware that the show opened at 1 pm. When she arrived at her house’s booth and saw the aisles were empty, she was panicked. “I thought: This is the end of our industry.” Needless to say, she was relieved when the crowds started flooding in after the floor opened.
For all the Midwest publishers who were happy to see the show back on their home turf—and manywere—some noted that they would still like to see BEA work to bring exhibition costs down. Kristin Gilpatrick, marketing manager at Wisconsin Historical Society Press, said her house was sending staff to the show but was disappointed it couldn’t take a booth.
“It’s not affordable for a small independent press to attend BEA,” she said. “I was so excited when I heard BEA was going to be in Chicago, but I’m disappointed at not being able to have a booth.” She then added: “It would be nice if, moving forward, [Reed] had some options for smaller presses. Right now it’s out of our price range.”
Eric Obenauf at Ohio-based indie Two Dollar Radio expressed a similar sentiment. Although he’s attending the show, and his house is co-hosting a party, he didn’t take a booth. “Until they make BEA affordable for small presses, we won’t have a table,” he said. Still, he appreciates the new venue. “It’s important to make the New York publishing establishment get off their asses once in awhile and venture out into the Heartland.”