Thousands of religion scholars descended on San Francisco Nov. 19-22 for the annual meetings of their largest professional groups, the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature, and publishers were relieved after three years of an expensive split to once again be part of a combined book exhibit, instead of having to staff and ship to separate meetings. They were also happy to see more-than-healthy sales to the book-hungry academics.
“We’re thrilled,” said Nicole Smith Murphy, associate director of Baylor University Press. “It’s the best show we’ve had in the press’s history.” Oxford University Press reported a steady stream of customers since the 8:30 a.m. Saturday opening of the publishers’ exhibit hall, when enthusiastic buyers surged through the doors. “We sold out of three books on Saturday--even the display copies,” said Brian Hughes, senior marketing manager.
This year, the two scholarly groups held their meetings concurrently, as had been established practice until three years ago, when the groups went separate ways and met two weeks apart in different cities, a practice that left religion publishers irate over the doubling of their costs. They weren’t the only disadvantaged constituency, either. The separation was “painful for everyone in the ecosystem,” said John Kutsko, SBL executive director. Both organizations reported robust attendance at this year’s conference—SBL’s was slightly less than 4,600; AAR reported combined registered attendance of 9,800 (numbers for walk-in attendees were not yet available). Kutsko said conference organizers easily sold sponsorships, and that a mobile meeting app they had developed was “very popular.”
SBL has its own publishing program, and Kutsko (who, as the former associate publisher at Abingdon, comes from a publishing background) reported they had increased their output 30% over the past year and seen an almost-matching 24% increase in sales for the first quarter of fiscal 2011 (July-Sept.). First-day sales at the conference were SBL’s highest ever, he said.
Fitzmeier told RBL that AAR was working on a number of partnerships and collaborations with other organizations, as well planning a social networking component for its members, tentatively named Biosphere. It will allow the posting of member profiles for access by other members as well as media looking for expert commentators. It would also provide what he called an “intellectual networking system” for scholars to be able to collaborate and keep abreast of each other’s research. Concerned about diminishing membership because of the shrinkage of tenured and staff teaching positions—as well as negative effects on religion as a field of study--AAR is participating in the Coalition on the Academic Workforce.
The two meetings’ concurrence also ramped up the entire range of events. More publishers feted their authors at receptions; Wm. B. Eerdmans celebrated its 100th anniversary with a reception and diamond-level sponsorship--the highest level--of the meetings. Panels could pack in an audience. On its home ground in San Francisco, HarperOne sponsored panels on Islamophobia, scholars and the media, and biblical scholarship. The biblical panel, featuring well-known scholar-authors John Dominic Crossan, Bart Ehrman, Amy-Jill Levine, and N.T. Wright, attracted 1,200 people. PW’s panel on writing for the general trade, with scholar-authors Michael Coogan (God and Sex), Kristin Swenson (Bible Babel), Lauren Winner (Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis), and Phil Zuckerman (Faith No More) ran out of chairs as 75 people tried to fit into a small meeting room.
When they weren’t selling books, convening panels, or hosting receptions, publishers talked about the digital publishing frontier. Zondervan’s booth featured its new Textbook Plus, an online site offering resources for instructors, such as PowerPoint slides, and for students, such as quizzes and video interviews with textbook authors. Debuting in September, the feature already has 1,000 professors signed up. “We have had a few other publishers come by asking, ‘Can I sign up?’ ” said Jerri Helms, senior director, digital marketing initiatives in Zondervan’s academic and reference division.
In 2012 the two groups will meet November 17-20 in Chicago.