Two years ago, when Reed Exhibitions announced it would be adding a consumer component to its annual trade show for publishers and booksellers, reactions were mixed. On the one hand, Reed was delivering what publishers had long said they wanted—more access to consumers. On the other hand, publishers worried about this direct interaction, which is a departure from their typical way of doing business. While the trial-and-error nature of BookCon remains, many publishers reported having better experiences at the just-concluded show, held May 30–31 at New York City’s Javits Center, than they did at the first installment. Now, with next year’s BookCon moving to Chicago (along with BEA), most publishers said that, though they’re unsure what a Chicago BookCon will look like, they’re excited to follow the show there.
“We’re just learning now what BookCon means [in New York], so it’s a great unknown what it will mean in Chicago,” said Liz Perl, senior v-p of marketing at Simon & Schuster. Perl, who said she felt there was “amazing improvement” in this year’s show compared to last year’s—thanks, largely, to better organization of events and crowd control—expects the scale of the show to change in Chicago. “Consumer shows and fan cons vary greatly market to market,” she noted, adding that she expects the crowd in Chicago to be similar to the one that showed up in New York; largely teen/tween girls.
Perl, like many at New York City–based publishers, said that the biggest shift for her at next year’s BookCon will be staffing. She said she knows she will have to work with “fewer boots on the ground,” but that the negative aspects don’t outweigh the positive ones.
Heather Fain, senior v-p and director of marketing strategy at Hachette Book Group, said she’s looking forward to meeting readers from other parts of the country: “Readers don’t just live in New York. If Reed puts together the programming with big names, I think they could get a crowd to come out in any major market. And I like the idea of interacting with readers outside the Tristate Area.”
Reed, for its part, has been touting strong numbers and good reactions to BookCon. Last week, the company released final attendance figures of 18,000 for the two-day event, an 80% increase over last year (which had been capped at 10,000). The positive reactions to New York–based BookCon have almost created a problem for Reed, though.
Brien McDonald, director of strategic accounts for Reed Exhibitions, said that he is currently looking into the possibility of scheduling a New York BookCon in 2016 (in addition to the Chicago BookCon). This is because the fans and publishers expressed dismay at the thought of BookCon leaving New York. “We’ve established a really big fan base in New York City, so we’re exploring venues and appropriate times in the calendar,” he said.
McDonald, acknowledging that the talks about a New York show in 2016 are very preliminary—he is meeting with publishers this month to discuss their preferences and ideas—said the interest seems to be there. Nonetheless, some insiders have already complained about the possibility of paying to attend two similar shows in what could be a short time frame. McDonald said Reed is simply trying to listen to its customers, however: “The reception [of this year’s show] was way too positive from fans and publishers not to look at New York City.”
Matty Golderg, v-p of sales and marketing at the Perseus Books Group, thinks it’s “healthy to tour the show around” and is happy to go to Chicago next year. Noting that Perseus is still experimenting with its approach, he explained that his company is in the unique position of trying to figure out what works best for its own authors and titles, while also trying to gauge the most effective ways its distribution clients can get involved. “Our whole thing this year was, let’s put our foot in the water and see how it feels,” he said.
That Perseus’s title output doesn’t skew closely to a young female audience has presented a learning curve for the house, Goldberg said. “Our list is quirkier than [those of the Big Five]... but we do have stuff that works [for this audience].” The key, Goldberg noted, is being able to pick and choose the right titles and authors for the BookCon crowds. And for the house’s publisher clients, the goal now is to educate them on the show. Many, Goldberg said, have shied away from participating, since they are less familiar with consumer shows. “I am going to report back to our clients and tell them that they missed something.”