The year’s edition of BookExpo kicked off Wednesday, May 30, at New York’s Javits Center with a well-received pep talk by Barnes & Noble chairman Len Riggio on the importance of physical bookstores and lots of confusion over the split nature of the exhibition floor. Under a plan implemented this year by BookExpo organizer Reed Exhibitions, publishers had the option to exhibit Thursday and Friday at BookExpo and Saturday and Sunday at the consumer-focused BookCon, which was also at Javits, or to exhibit for all three days of BookExpo but not at BookCon. As a result, the roughly 150 companies that exhibited on Wednesday occupied only about one-quarter of the show floor, while the balance of the exhibits were still being set up for a Thursday opening. Though the exhibitors had no problems with Wednesday foot traffic, they had lots of issues with the confusion the split floor caused for book buyers and, in some cases, publishers.

Red Wheel/Weiser/Conari was one of the exhibitors in the section that opened on Wednesday. CEO Michael Kerber said that though he had retailer traffic and conducted meetings that day, it was clear that book buyers were frustrated because they couldn’t visit all of the houses they came to see until Thursday. Kerber gave Reed credit for trying some new things to improve the show, but said it is not clear in which direction Reed wants to move event.

The biggest company taking advantage of the three-day BookExpo option was the Ingram Content Group, which had a large exhibit for its various service operations, as well as a large space for its distribution clients, which are part of Ingram Publisher Services. Phil Ollila, chief content officer of Ingram, said on Wednesday that he was pleased with how things went. “I think it was a good way to start the show,” he noted. “It is great to have our distribution clients and our other businesses all in one place.”

Phillip Ruppel, chief operating officer at Phaidon, said he was “very pleased with the first day of the show—we were busy the entire day.”

But in a sign of the uncertainty that hovered over the opening day, the head of a large independent publisher said she had no idea that parts of the floor were open to publishers on Wednesday.

Another new element that caused some confusion throughout the three days of BookExpo was the inaugural New York Rights Fair (see “New York Rights Fair Maps a Booming Marketplace,” p. 8), which ran concurrently with BookExpo at the Metropolitan Pavilion on West 18th Street. A collaboration between BolognaFiere, which runs the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, Publishers Weekly, and Combined Book Exhibit, NYRF hosted exhibitors from the U.S. and from around the world. In an agreement reached with Reed, NYRF became the official rights fair for BookExpo, with shuttle buses moving between the two locations. A number of BookExpo attendees, however, wondered why the center had been moved and said they would like to see NYRF colocate with BookExpo at the Javits next year.

Logistical concerns aside, this years’s BookExpo featured some of the biggest names from across the publishing and bookselling businesses. Riggio, who was once viewed by independent booksellers as their archenemy, was introduced as the keynote speaker by ABA CEO Oren Teicher, who acknowledged that such a thing “would have been impossible to imagine not so long ago.” Both men emphasized that the long-term interest of the general public is for B&N and indie bookstores to survive in tandem.

“I don’t see the independent bookstore in mortal competition with B&N,” Riggio said. “The more bookstores the better.”

Thursday morning began with a leadership panel featuring Markus Dohle, CEO of Penguin Random House; Simon & Schuster CEO Carolyn Reidy; and Macmillan CEO John Sargent. The importance of protecting free speech, especially in the wake of President Trump’s attempt to block the publication of Fire and Fury (published by Macmillan) was a prominent topic. All three executives also agreed that the financial status of the business is stable. Dohle, citing a “fairly healthy coexistence between print and digital,” said, “There is no reason to be pessimistic.” Sargent added a note of caution, pointing out that the industry still faces some serious challenges in protecting the current ecosystem amid changing consumer buying habits.

In another largely upbeat panel, a trio of copyright heavyweights agreed that though the industry may have its issues with Trump, when it comes to copyright policy, the publishing industry stands with the president. “The Obama administration was not kind to copyright,” said Keith Kupferschmid, CEO of the Copyright Alliance. “The Obama administration, and President Obama in particular, was somewhat enamored with Silicon Valley, and in particular one company in Silicon Valley: Google.” He characterized Google as “enemy #1 when it comes to copyright.”

But the panelists agreed that the Trump administration’s stance is different. “I would say that so far we are very pleased with the access, and the interest we have with the Trump administration,” said Maria Pallante, CEO of the AAP. Authors Guild CEO Mary Rasenberger added that there seems to be a “reset” in Washington when it comes to copyright policy.

At the ABA Town Hall and Annual Meeting, Teicher urged booksellers to push American publishers to debut the centralized web-based invoicing program known as Batch. The use of Batch, Teicher said, will allow indie booksellers to radically streamline invoicing, payments, and returns. “I can’t overstate what a game-changing event Batch could be for the bottom line of indie bookstores of all sizes,” he said, adding that the ABA board has approved a “serious financial commitment” to bring Batch—which has been developed in the U.K.—to the U.S. in January 2019.

Books and Authors

Along with all the meetings and panels, there was plenty of discussion about books. One of the most-talked-about titles wasn’t even available at the show: Crown, the publisher of Michelle Obama’s memoir, Becoming, had postcards of the book’s cover but no galleys to distribute.

Jonah Zimiles of Words Bookstore in Maplewood, N.J., was touting Gary Shteyngart’s new novel, Lake Success, as was David Enyeart of Common Good Books in St. Paul, Minn. Mike Fusco-Straub of Books Are Magic in Brooklyn, N.Y., was high on Lauren Groff’s story collection Florida. And Jonathan Lethem’s new novel, The Feral Detective, is a book that Anne Holman of the King’s English in Salt Lake City “can’t wait to read.”

A novel that several booksellers mentioned was Tommy Orange’s debut, There, There. Another anticipated debut is a novel about a Muslim Indian-American family: Fatima Farheen Mirza’s A Place for Us. And Pamela Klinger-Horn of Excelsior Books in Excelsior, Minn., couldn’t say enough about Vox by Christina Dalcher.

Two titles that touch on the struggles of the working class were high on booksellers’ lists: Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth by Sarah Smarsh and Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive by Stephanie Land.

There were plenty of children’s books that excited booksellers at BookExpo as well. In terms of the big picture books of the show, several booksellers shared their excitement for We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins. Philipp Goedicke, children’s book buyer and specialist at Community Bookstore in Brooklyn, is eager for Carmela Full of Wishes by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson. Another illustrated title that was stirring up interest at the show was Jacqueline Woodson’s forthcoming picture book, The Day You Begin, illustrated by Rafael López.

On the graphic novel front, Heather Herbert of Children’s Book World in Haverford, Pa.,was looking forward to Jarrett Krosoczka’s Hey Kiddo.

Buzzworthy novels for teens drew long lines at publishers’ booths and the autographing stations. Brittany Lockhart, a YA bookseller at Barnes & Noble in Hackensack, N.J., was ready to claim her galley of Bridge of Clay, Marcus Zusak’s highly anticipated follow-up to The Book Thief. She was also excited about Deb Caletti’s A Heart in a Body in the World. Jamie Kurtz, general manager at Books-a-Million in Paramus, N.J., was queued up to get a signed copy of Dear Evan Hansen: The Novel.

Contemporary YA was also in high demand at the show. Among the most highly anticipated were People Kill People by Ellen Hopkins and Wildcard, book two in Marie Lu’s YA Warcross duology.

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