A dding a public component to BookExpo America has been one of the most hotly debated topics regarding possible changes to the annual event. BEA officials have discussed it internally and with their customers, and the concept has now received a major boost from Penguin, whose CEO, David Shanks, and president, Susan Petersen Kennedy, have outlined what they see as a viable way to bring book lovers into the event without having them at the Javits Center. The executives made the proposal in response to queries from PW to publishers and booksellers about how BEA can be improved (see p. 29).

Shanks and Kennedy suggested creating a separate, consumer-focused program devoted to reaching the general public that would be sponsored by BEA and consist of several high-profile ticketed events featuring major authors with fall titles. As envisioned by Shanks and Kennedy, the new component could be modeled after the annual PEN World Voices Festival and New Yorker Book Festival, which hold a series of author events and panels at different locations all over the city. Ideally, the cost of the tickets would cover the overhead for the venues, and events would be scheduled in the evening and not conflict with BEA programming and exhibits. All BEA badge holders could attend these events for free.

Creating off-site public events, Shanks and Kennedy said, “would further expand the opportunities and exposure for the BEA, authors and their books.” The addition of these events, the two said, “would ultimately help generate advance buzz for the overall convention as well as for the authors and their books—not only in the media and among booksellers but among consumers, who would get a sneak peek at a few select major fall authors.” At the off-site events, publishers could do consumer giveaways, as they do at other book fairs across the country.

With the consumer audience in the mix, Shanks and Kennedy reason, BEA could reach out to the city of New York and its officials to get involved in promoting the show, and give local media outlets more angles for coverage. “BEA could become more than a trade show,” Shanks and Kennedy said. “It could begin to serve a dual role: trade and consumer. BEA has the potential to grow into an annual cultural event for the public.”

BEA v-p and general manager Lance Fensterman called the proposal “a great idea.” He said BEA has discussed “various incarnations” of a public component with different parties, but is not committed to any one model. While BEA would like to add the public in 2010, Fensterman said they need to conduct “due diligence” to determine what might be feasible. “We don't want to do something hastily and not do it well,” he said. Furthermore, he added, the development of outside events “can't distract us from our core mission to focus on the trade show.”

Other publishers, without hearing the Penguin proposal, are generally supportive of an off-site event as long as it does not compete with what is happening at the Javits. Random House spokesperson Stuart Applebaum said it would be great for the industry if BEA could generate the sort of cultural cachet the Frankfurt Book Fair has in Germany. While some smaller publishers favor selling books to consumers on the convention floor, no major houses (and no booksellers) PW spoke with support the idea, and Fensterman has vetoed the notion. “The reading public won't be coming into the [Javits] tent anytime soon,” he said.