Acknowledging the ongoing debate over the future of BookExpo America, Reed Exhibitions held an unusual pre-show press conference to offer updates on attendance and the size of the show—21% smaller than the 2007 New York show— and to highlight new events—like Perseus’s 48-hour book project—instituted for this year’s show.

BEA show manager Lance Fensterman characterized the press conference as one aspect of an ongoing “open dialogue” with the media and with the book industry about “where the show is going.” He invoked a number of “themes” that characterized the show’s new direction: “content in all forms and connectivity to the audience.”

According to Fensterman, one product of this new “conversation” is that BEA will be a “smaller more concentrated event.” Indeed, Fensterman said a survey of book publishers had indicated that the vague category of “industry professional” had been described as the least important and that show management had cut attendance requests of about 1,500 people in this category. “A better show probably means a smaller show,” he said.

In fact, this year the BEA show floor will be about 21% smaller in square footage than the last BEA in New York in 2007, Fensterman said. He said that exhibitor registration was down 10% to 15% from BEA 2007 and that professional pre-registration numbers for this year were down about 14% from the 2007 BEA. On the other hand, Fensterman quipped, general registration was up 30% over last year’s show in Los Angeles. Although he did not give a exact figure, Fensterman said that bookseller registration was about the same as BEA 2007. And he noted that media registration was up about 20% for this year’s show.

Fensterman was joined by new AAP CEO Tom Allen and new ABA CEO Oren Teicher who both echoed support for the new changes—including plans to keep the show in New York for at least the next four years and to transform it into a mid-week three-day show in 2010. Perseus Books' CFO, Rick Joyce, was on hand to hype the publisher’s plan to edit and publish an instant book in all formats (digital and print) in 48 hours right at its booth on the floor—from soliciting content over the Web to holding public editorial meetings on cover art, marketing and foreign rights sales. Perseus used the Web to solicit content for the book—the first sentence of would-be sequels to famous books—and has received more than 700 witty submissions from the public.

“Lance asked me what could happen at BEA that doesn’t usually happen,” Joyce said, explaining how the event was hatched. “Every one is invited to watch the process,” Joyce said. “We’re exploring where publishing is going.”

Click here for more BookExpo America 2009 coverage from PW.