The prospect of BookExpo America and the ALA annual convention being located in the same exhibit hall is being viewed warily by the different players in the publishing community. Those who appear the least enthused by the plan are the major New York trade houses with Penguin Group in the forefront. "We are not in favor of combining the two conventions," the company said in a statement. "The shows are designed for very different audiences and we do not feel they are compatible under one roof. We feel more discussion is needed before a final decision can be reached." The Hachette Book Group also called for more talks. "I hope that Reed will listen carefully to the publishing community as a whole before arriving at a decision," HBG CEO David Young told PW. Random House had a more muted response. "We're reflecting on the concept," a spokesperson said.
Last week, Reed Exhibitions (which owns BEA) and ALA executives acknowledged that they were having discussions about working together, but that no deal has been reached. Sources said the talks involve Reed running the ALA annual convention and midwinter meetings, with the convention and BEA being held together in what was described as two shows under one roof. A sale of the shows is not being discussed (nor was it mentioned in last week's PW Daily story). While many of those interviewed by PW said they would like to know more details about how a joint BEA/ALA convention would work, the size of a combined show and a lack of focus were the two top concerns for those who are troubled by the prospect of a combined event, which could have around 40,000 attendees.
On librarian listservs and blogs, some noted the clear synergy between the two shows, but others wondered if navigating two large shows would be too challenging. "[ALA] is already overwhelming," noted Barbara Fister, librarian at Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota. "It's hard to imagine it getting any bigger." Fister told PW she was also unsure how well librarians and publishers would mingle. "It would be good if we could learn more about one another's worlds, but it would not be cool if it were all hype, all the time. I don't know if one conference can suit both audiences."
Bookseller David Didriksen, president of Willow Books & Cafe in Acton, Mass., shared some of Fister's sentiments. "I'm not sure it is in the best interest of the attendees, the booksellers and librarians," he said. "Even though there is some overlap, the raison d'être for each is quite different. My guess is that both booksellers and librarians will feel shortchanged, but that it will happen anyway. There is one silver lining: Chicago is a great place for a convention."
Not having to go to New York was seen by many as one major benefit of a joint show, which would most likely move around to select cities, with Chicago the centerpiece of the rotation. Even some New York houses seemed to not be against the idea of leaving New York. While noting that HarperCollins is in the process of doing an internal assessment of what impact a joint convention would have, Josh Marwell, president of sales, said, "The industry needs to take seriously any new approaches to the way we have been doing business."
Other industry members said that if holding BEA and ALA together was the best way to ensure the future of both, then they supported the move. "I don't think anyone wants the BEA to go away," said Valerie Koehler, owner of Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston, Tex. "If it needs to be something for both booksellers and librarians, then go ahead. I don't think the ABA would ever change the education. Hopefully, there would be education for both. Maybe the show could be a day longer so it won't be so compacted." David Steinberger, president of the Perseus Books Group, agreed that keeping an industry show viable was worth making changes. "I understand the logic for doing it. If it helps to bring more publishers together, then I think it would be a positive," he said.
Perhaps the most enthusiastic about a joint event was Munro Magruder, marketing director for the Novato, Calif., independent publisher New World Library. Although he said he has some questions about how the shows would be combined logistically, he liked the prospect of reaching more book buyers at a single show. "The increased librarian traffic would be a good thing for smaller independent publishers like NWL who don't exhibit separately at ALA," he said. "I would also guess that we would be looking at four days instead of three, which, of course, adds to publisher costs. But then again, we get to reach our two primary markets with just one trade show, which should more than mitigate the additional cost." And Magruder, like most industry members not based in New York, was not disappointed about leaving Gotham. "I've always really liked Chicago as a venue for a trade show," he said.