In 2017, after a long history of running BookExpo as a three-day show, Reed Exhibitions shortened the period when the exhibit floor was open to two days. That proved to be too short a time for booksellers and international attendees to accomplish what they needed and wanted to. Jennifer Martin, who replaced Brien McDonald as event manager of BookExpo and BookCon after last year’s shows, says that, with only two days, attendees had time to “hit only the Big Five, but with more time, they’ll make sure to see everyone,” adding that Reed made a big push to get more independent publishers to exhibit this year.
Last year, exhibitors had the option of two, three, or four days, in combination (or not) with BookCon, with only part of the floor open on certain days—a plan that everyone found confusing. Martin admits that last year’s schedule did not work and says, “It’s tough to keep switching it around, but we really want to get it right.” This year, she promises, “We’ve nailed it, and we’ll stay consistent moving forward.” The show floor will open at New York City’s Javits Center on Wednesday, May 29, at noon and run until 5 p.m. Thursday’s hours are 9 a.m.–5 p.m., and BookExpo will wrap on Friday with a 9 a.m.–3 p.m. run.
Beyond the change back to three days, there are new initiatives, new programming and events, and adjustments to familiar BookExpo fare, much of which grew out of a focus-group road trip that Martin and some of her team took last year with the aim of learning firsthand from booksellers and publishers what they want. “We thought, let’s not do it in a vacuum,” she says. “Industries change, our world changes, and shows have to change as well.”
New York Rights Fair
A big change is that the New York Rights Fair, launched last year and held across town from the Javits, will now take place at the convention center, on the same floor as BookExpo. “It’s tough to get anywhere quickly in New York,” says Martin, noting that even the availability of free shuttles last year made it difficult to spend quality time at both BookExpo and the rights fair. “It’s a better way to serve the industry if everyone is in one room,” she adds.
In that same big room, in a designated area, will be UnBound, another show within a show that will feature approximately 100 vendors of sidelines and gifts and has the tagline, “A collection of bookish goods.” Martin says that her conversations with ABA CEO Oren Teicher—who fully supported the idea—and booksellers revealed that the most successful bookstores’ profits are helped by nonbook merchandise.
Last year, the 30 or so gift vendors, who were mixed in on the floor of BookExpo, “wrote a ton of orders,” Martin notes, adding that attendees were appreciative of their presence at the show. Many booksellers’ budgets don’t allow them to travel to both book and gift shows, she points out, so giving them the opportunity to source books and nonbook items under the same roof is a great value.
The UnBound initiative is led by Patti Stracher-Lee, a stationery industry veteran who was named events director of Reed Exhibitions last fall. Each of the vendors, representing a wide variety of merchandise, has been vetted for appropriateness for bookstores, she says. “We want stores to be delighted,” she notes, adding that she plans to highlight “new resources that are hard to find but have the business structure that can deliver.”
Well-known brands like the toy company Melissa & Doug are exhibiting, but UnBound will also feature less familiar products such as those from creative play brand Eco-Kids. There will be baby milestone books and other products from Lucy Darling, which specializes in keepsakes, and pencils from Blackwing, whose Blackwing 602 pencil was favored by writers including John Steinbeck and Stephen Sondheim. North Ave Candles is exhibiting its literary candles, Australia’s Sock It Up will bring its novelty socks, and GeoCentral will feature crystals and rocks.
UnBound will also host its own educational programming and presentations on the Choice Stage. Lisa Uhrik, president of Franklin Fixtures, which creates display shelving and fixtures for bookstores, will talk on visual merchandising basics (Wednesday, 12:15–1 p.m.) and on the design practices of successful stores (Thursday, noon–12:45 p.m.). Two board members of the Greeting Card Association will discuss how booksellers can take advantage of the new momentum millennials are bringing to the business (Wednesday, 2:15–3 p.m.). And Sarah Schwartz, editor-in-chief of Stationery Trends, will moderate a panel on successfully integrating “bookish” goods into bookstores (Thursday, 2:15–2:55 p.m.).
Offstage there are other educational opportunities, according to Martin, including a session on how show vendors can work best with independent bookstores, such as by lowering minimum quantities for orders. Other offstage panels include one with booksellers on developing sidelines and one on product trends.
“UnBound is only getting started,” Stracher-Lee says. “It’s a launch. It has a future, and we’re investing in it.”
Though perennially popular events such as the adult and children’s author breakfasts, editors’ buzz panels, and publicists speed dating are back, there is a host of new panels and programming this year. Here are some highlights:
An Evening with Justice Sonia Sotomayor
Big names at big events have long been a highlight of BookExpo. Recently, marquee events have been led by politicians and newsmakers. Last year, Bernie Sanders had an SRO event, as did Hillary Clinton the year before. When Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor takes the Main Stage at the Javits Center on Thursday, 6:15–7:15 p.m., the same oversize crowd can be expected. Sotomayor will discuss the life and experiences that led her to write her book for young readers, Just Ask: Be Different, Be Brave, Be You, illus. by Rafael López (Penguin Young Readers, Sept.).
Author Happy Hour
According to Martin, another revelation from the focus groups was that—even with the hundreds of author signings in both the autographing area and in publishers’ booths—booksellers want more face-to-face time with authors. To that end, BookExpo will host a happy hour on Thursday, 4:15–6:30 p.m., in the ABA Lounge. The cocktail reception is open to all ABA members. Press and others are welcome on an invitation-only basis. Fifteen authors will be in attendance to mix and mingle. (See “Authors at the BookExpo Happy Hour,” p. 6, for a complete list.)
Audiobook New Titles Showcase & APA Authors Tea
With the growth in the sale of audiobooks, it’s fitting that BookExpo and the Audio Publishers Association are launching a new program, adding to the unfailingly popular APA Authors Tea. The inaugural Audiobook New Titles Showcase will take place on the Choice Stage, Wednesday, 4:15–5:15 p.m. The panel features heavy hitting authors and producers including Meg Gardiner, Caitlin Garing, Guy Oldfield, Mo Rocca, and Maggie Stiefvater, as well as Dan Zitt, who will moderate.
The APA Tea will be held on Thursday, 2:30–3:30 p.m., in Room 1E07/08/09. Hamilton star and audiobook narrator Euan Morton will moderate a discussion on what leads to fabulous listening with authors Laurie Halse Anderson, Jenny Craft, and Philippa Gregory.
Reaching Beyond the Big Five
The last of BookExpo’s new initiatives was designed to meet bookseller and librarian demands to hear more from independent publishers, who will have a dedicated stage, the Indie Publisher Stage, for a broad range of programming. BookExpo will film each of the 24 sessions held on the stage over the course of the three days. After the show, the films will be given to the indie editors and publishers for promotional use. The cameras will add a nice element of buzz on the floor and bring attention to the publishers, Martin says, adding, “Every time someone sees a camera, they wonder, Oh, who is being filmed?”
If early registration is any indication, then the new initiatives are already working, with a 10% increase in sign-ups compared to last year (among booksellers, librarians, and exhibitors combined). Some of the increase in bookseller attendance can be attributed to BookExpo’s newly created grant program, in which 200 booksellers received $1,000 each to be used toward travel, accommodations, and other expenses while in New York City attending the show. Upon announcement of the program last February, Teicher told ABA’s Bookselling This Week: “This new initiative from BookExpo of outreach and support to bookstores that have not had a chance to recently attend the event—and experience the new programming—is a clear demonstration of their commitment to the independent bookstore channel. This participation of new bookstores and others can only make BookExpo an even stronger event.”
More on this year's BookExpo fair.
Correction: This article previously indicated that the happy hour will be held Friday. It will be held Thursday.