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First Literary Congress a Hit -- But Smaller Than Planned
Bob Summer -- 5/18/98
When PW reported earlier this year, on plans for the May 8-10 Literary Congress at the Nashville Convention Center, managing director Eileen Dengler was quoted as anticipating attendance by 1000 booksellers. In addition, the former ABA director of meetings and conventions expected 250 exhibitors from "major New York publishers," as well as from smaller presses and book-related companies located throughout the U.S.
But at the end of the new show, dubbed "Back to the Business of Books," Dengler and trade show manager Sharon Weiss Lalloway (not having access to computer data transmitted to the Literary Congress headquarters in Westbury, N.Y.) estimated 600 as the registration total-200 booksellers plus 400 publishing personnel "and other participants."

Few Large Exhibitors

And of the 85 exhibitors listed in TLC's printed program, the only "major" ones were Time Warner Trade Publishing Group, St. Martin's Press, Nashville's Nelson Word Publishing Group and Random House, which had a room outside the half-filled and never busy exhibit hall for sales representations by appointment.

The good news, however, is that despite a turnout much smaller than Dengler initially projected, the general response from attending booksellers, exhibitors and speakers was surprisingly positive. Commonly welcomed as "a good beginning effort," TLC was most often faulted only for being scheduled so close to BookExpo America.

"We created for Nashville a model that seemed to work well," Dengler said, adding that the previously announced second congress, set for Ph nix, Ariz., next year, "will go on, but in February or March instead of May. The dates will be announced soon, after discussion with exhibitors and our board."

The board of advisers she will consult includes Matthew Baldacci, Dorling Kindersley director of trade marketing; Mark Dressler, Crystal River Publishing Group president; Terry Hicks, Booklinks president; Donna Paz, Paz &Associates president; Elisabeth Prial Soundprints v-p and publisher; Kerry Smith, Promo magazine editor and publisher; and Ralph Woodward, National Association of Independent Publishers Representatives executive director.The model Dengler created features small, interactive workshops on such diverse topics as co-op advertising for booksellers and on-demand potential for publishers; afternoon exhibit hours, so as not to compete with the morning sessions; off-floor sites for conferences; provocative keynote speakers and panelists; and sign-up group dinners split among outlying restaurants.Chris O'Harra, co-owner of Auntie's Bookstore in Spokane, Wash., validated Dengler's judgment: "This is great! BEA is so large, and although it has wonderful programs, too, they are conducted in lecture format, unlike the one-to-one closeness we have here. Of course, I would have liked to see more people, but the idea behind the Literary Congress is innovative and I hope it catches on."

"Who's Killing the Business?"

O'Harra expressed her view when comments were invited following observations on the state of the industry by panelists at the "Who's Killing the Book Business?" keynote session on Saturday, which was filmed by C-Span. (George Plimpton was Friday's keynoter.)

The moderator, USA Today book critic Bob Minzesheimer, asked Time Warner Publishing chairman Laurence Kirshbaum, novelist and Nashville Books publisher Cathy Pelletier, Southern California Children's Booksellers Association president Shirley Russell, and Barnes &Noble small press/vendor relations director Marcella Ann Smith what each would prescribe for "the patient" if they were doctors.

Kirshbaum answered: Thinking harder about "making it easy for books to get to consumers." Although publishing is undergoing "a mutation," posited Russell, "overall the patient is quite healthy." Smith called for "a concerted effort by booksellers and publishers to find out who the customer is"; and Pelletier, who hopes, using the pen name K.C. McKinnon, to move beyond her midlist status, jokingly suggested Viagra.

Among the exhibitors, it seemed the Rocky Mountain Book Publishers Association had already tried the wonder drug. About 20% of the booths were taken by the association's members: "We believe in competition," avowed RMBPA executive director Alan Bernahr. Web bookseller J l Turner (UndercoverBooks.com), a net-pricing advocate, even found a Western-based publisher -- South Dakota's Spizzirri Publishing Company -- that sells titles at cost so booksellers can determine retail price.

For Turner, from Shaker Heights, Ohio, the thrill may have surpassed getting tickets to a Garth Brooks concert. But tickets to that event, held across the street from TLC, had sold out long ago, anyway.
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