There were fewer attendees at this year’s BookCon, held May 14 in Chicago, compared to the two previous events in New York City, but publishers and readers alike gave the consumer show generally high marks. Executives at Reed Exhibitions, the organizer of BookCon as well as BookExpo America, which ran May 11–13, reported that consumer attendance was 7,200. The two-day BookCon in New York in 2015 drew 18,000 attendees, and the first BookCon in 2014 attracted 10,000 readers over one day.
For publishers, the lower attendance was offset by a more-organized show that still drew very engaged, and eager, readers. Michelle Bayuk, marketing and publicity director for Quarto Publishing, said that she was braced for a chaotic day, given her experience at the first New York BookCon, but that things went smoothly this year.
PGW’s Elise Cannon said she found attendees this year to be more interested in the books, rather than just looking for celebrity authors, as was often the case at the past two shows. She surmised that this is because the headliners in Chicago were actual authors, not celebrities such as Khloé Kardashian, a big draw in 2014. The shift in the author lineup led to a slightly older audience this year; young teenagers were in the majority in New York. According to Reed, 60% of consumers at BookCon were under 30, with 34% in the 21–30 age bracket; 87% were female.
Publishers reported that they ran out of their most popular free items quickly. Todd Doughty, v-p and executive director of publicity for the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, said its signed copies of John Grisham’s The Litigators were gone in less than five minutes, and the same held true for the 10th-anniversary edition of The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. Galleys that went quickly included those of Carl Hiassen’s forthcoming novel Razor Girl and Nathan Hill’s The Nix. In addition, Knopf gave away hundreds of Knopf and Grisham tote bags, along with Knopf centenary T-shirts; all were gone by 1 p.m., Doughty said.
Jason Wells, director of publicity at Abrams, said its children’s titles sold “like hot cakes,” and that some adult titles also “sold briskly” at 50% off retail. The Art of Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Can I Sit on Your Lap While You’re Pooping sold very well, he added.
Chicago was the first BookCon for Trinity University Press, whose director, Tom Payton, was manning the booth. Payton said one highlight was when a middle-aged man came to the booth early in the day and said that it “was the best stinking booth” at BookCon, calling it a “little adult center in a sea of young adult energy.” Payton hasn’t decided whether TUP will return to BookCon next year.
Also uncertain about whether it will go to BookCon in 2017 is Consortium Book Sales & Distribution, which was at the event for the first time in Chicago. V-p and director of marketing Jennifer Swihart said Consortium quickly gave out lots of free books from its publishers, but she wondered whether that approach is really engaging with readers. Of the eight Consortium publishers who took part in BookCon, two had a great experience, two did not like it at all, and four were ambivalent, she said, noting that one of the publishers who enjoyed BookCon used a contest to build its reader list during the show.
The biggest complaint from consumers, many of whom came from different parts of the country, was that BookCon wasn’t long enough. “It’s very stressful, having it on one day—a lot of the [panels] I want to go to overlap,” said Marissa Rodriguez, a teen from Philadelphia.
While many publishers prefer the one-day format, they also hope BookCon will grow. Quarto’s Bayuk said, “My marketing brain says expand—have BookCons all over the country.” Eugenia Pakalik, director of sales and marketing at Norton, called the Chicago event “great” and added, “Maybe someday, we’ll have BookCons in several cities.” Knopf’s Doughty offered a suggestion to help draw more consumers: invite them to the adult and children’s author breakfasts. “May BookCon grow,” he said.
Update: An earlier version of this story contained an error in the title of Can I Sit on Your Lap While You're Pooping (Abrams) and has been corrected.