With the nation still in a recession and book sales sluggish, the publishers, booksellers and other industry members did not know what to expect from this year’s BookExpo America, but most came away feeling the trip to the Javits Center was worthwhile. “We did what we came to do,” said Michael Kerber, president of Red Wheel/Weiser/Conari. “We even wrote a couple of orders,” his partner, Jan Johnson, chimed in.

Fears by some exhibitors that the Javits would be empty were unfounded, as total attendance was put at 29,923. Excluding exhibitors, total “verified attendees” was 12,025, up 30% from last year in Los Angeles, but down 11% from the 2007 New York show. The verified attendee category includes book buyers (7,066), plus licensing and rights professionals, non-editorial media, authors, and film and TV production personnel. (The perception that the aisles were narrower this year than in the past, an observation reported in Show Daily, was incorrect. BEA executives said the aisles were the same width.)

The changes implemented by BEA executives this year met with generally favorable reactions, including the two Author Stages which added more interaction between authors and booksellers on the convention floor. The education panels, especially the Thursday slate, met with good reviews, and the jump in media attendees was appreciated by exhibitors.

Despite all the discussion about e-books and other digital initiatives that has dominated the industry in recent months, the chatter on the convention floor was largely about books. The upcoming fall season is considered to be the strongest in years, with a book buyer at one of the major chains declaring, “there’s something for everyone in the seasons to come.” The fall lineup features titles from both commercial and literary authors.

Another reason for the lack of digital talk on the floor was that technology is already a part of trade publishing. Google’s Tom Turvey noted that at earlier BEAs he was focused on recruiting publishers into the Google Book Search program but, with most BEA exhibitors already part of Book Search, the 2009 convention was devoted to explaining upgrades to the service, including plans to offer e-book sales by the end of the year. One of the new exhibitors at the show, Interead, was using swim-suited models to promote its new reader Cool-er. Despite some tepid reviews, Gary Ling, operations director for Interead, said the company will begin shipping devices to the U.S. this week. Ling said that, given the positive conversations he had with retailers at BEA, he expects stores to be carrying Cool-ers before the end of the year.

HarperCollins’s decision to use e-catalogues and (mostly) e-galleys met with a generally favorable response, said president of sales Josh Marwell. HC was still handselling the Symtio e-galleys on Sunday, he noted. Marwell was happy with this year’s event. “I think Lance deserves a lot of credit for re-energizing the show,” Marwell said, adding that 2009 was clearly “a transitional year.”

More change is planned for 2010 with the most drastic being a switch to a mid-week event. The show, which will remain in New York, will begin on Tuesday May 25 with a full day conference and special events; the exhibit hall will be open from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Exhibits will be open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Wednesday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Thursday.

Click here for more BookExpo America 2009 coverage from PW.