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E-BookExpo America: A Taste of Things to Come
John Mutter and Staff -- 6/12/00
At a happy show, books and new technology mix easily

Time Warner slugger Larry Kirshbaum
with Cub's home-run king Sammy Sosa
For the first time in almost a decade, BookExpo America, nee ABA, held June 2-4 in Chicago, lacked any of the familiar controversies involving logistics, timing, location, lawsuits or boycotts. Most important, there was no soul-searching about the value of the show.

As a result, the industry focused on business, which ranged from the traditional presentation of fall titles to keeping tabs on e-matters and meeting new "customers," whether they were international distributors, rights agents or media. Many attendees commented favorably on the general good mood--and in the same breath wondered why, in such a turbulent, uncertain time, book people were so cheerful. When Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos spoke, for example, most of the several thousand people on hand fed out of his virtual hands. And the giddiness of the ABA town and annual meetings, sometimes stormy occasions in the past, might have prompted a name change to American Booksellers Mutual Admiration Society.

Many thought the show was quiet, particularly because, as seems customary in recent years, there was no Big Book. (Harry Potter didn't qualify, in part because Scholastic downplayed the title, which has a magic of its own.)

Many of the preshow programs and seminars offered on Wednesday and Thursday drew enthusiastic crowds, particularly e-publishing workshops at McCormick Place. Some 600 people attended PMA's two-and-a-half day BEA University, which offered the usual round of detailed seminars on independent press issues, with SRO crowds at the e-panels. Clearly, the Internet and its possibilities for the book business was the dominant theme of the show--even if many concluded that the e-book will take longer to permeate the culture than people had predicted after the popularity of Riding the Bullet. (More on e-issues below.)

Despite appearances by Julie Andrews, Sammy Sosa, Katie Couric, Gary Sinise and others, there were fewer celebrities in attendance, it seemed. There might have been less press coverage than in the past, according to several publicity-hungry publishers and authors. And some people called the Rights Center activity slow, with many of the 200 booked remaining empty much of the time. A number of foreign visitors, complaining about both the dearth of salable titles and that they felt they didn't need a third rights show, after the burgeoning London one and before Frankfurt, wondered aloud if they would continue coming to Chicago. (More on this next week.)

While still not at the Roman orgy levels of a decade ago, there were many fine, lively parties at BEA this year. The more traditional ones included a Talk/Miramax party for Martin Amis in the surprisingly hip top floor of Marshall Field's and Hyperion's party for Liz Smith at Gibson's Steakhouse, which offered the best chow of the show. Alternatively, there was an alt-lit party extravaganza at Quimby's Bookstore that featured a fire-breathing woman, as well as the FAB Awards at Crobar, where Softskull won Publisher of the Year. Time Warner threw several notable events, and PGW had its usual big blowout. Ingram's customary industrywide party was scaled back to invitation only.

The show floor was active, too, and if anything, traffic appeared to build on the second day.

One of the most satisfied people at the show was HarperCollins CEO Jane Friedman, who was thrilled that a Harper author won the Book Sense Book of the Year for the second year in a row. (Barbara Kingsolver nabbed the honor this year; Rebecca Wells was last year's winner.) Friedman said booth traffic was heavy and that the company was selling lots of rights--and even writing orders. She said she saw more booksellers this year than last. "I like this show," she added.

On the last day of the show, Rich Freese of National Book Network commented: "We had the best show we've ever had. There's been a lot of interest. I've never been busier."

In a similar vein, Todd Stocke of Sourcebooks said, "We've seen more booksellers in a day and a half than we have in two years." Jennifer Risko of Falcon Publishing, who called BEA "the busiest show I've been to in five years," was writing orders one night until 6:30. "In an era of globalization, people are recognizing the power of regional publishers to differentiate themselves," she said.

Echoing her, Tony Rose, publisher and CEO of Amber Books Publishing, Ph nix, Ariz., which specializes in African-American self-help and career guides, called the show "wonderful." The three-time exhibitor said this was his "biggest year yet. We've sold tons of books." He also lauded the small press section, saying it's "the place to be. People come here knowing they can find innovative and different books."

Lisa Levinson, at Simon & Schuster, said she had seen "a lot of bookseller badges.... We're meeting a wide variety of customers from just about every part of the country. And all kinds of customers: travel bookstores, audio bookstores, general bookstores, wholesalers--the whole gamut."

Blue Badges and Book Sense
In fact, booksellers in attendance covered a broader range of book retailers than at past shows, with more representatives of used bookstores and online booksellers. Among these less-traditional booksellers were George Baker, a retired newspaper editor who has been selling on his sawtoothbooks.com Web site for four years, dealing mostly in "modern first editions and collectibles," and Betty Smith, Muscathine, Iowa, whose children's bookstore went out of business three years ago and who now sells DK books at Tupperware-style parties.

Most booksellers seemed happy with the show. First time attendee Jan Healy of Eagle Harbor Book Co., Bainbridge Island, Wash., called BEA "fascinating and totally overwhelming. I think there's a good representation of all aspects of the book industry." Gloria Leaton of Value Books, Harpers Ferry, W.Va., said she was "impressed with the number of publishers here." First-timer Chris Glafeke of Reader's World, Michigan City, Ind., said, "I love it! I can't wait to come back."

For many of these booksellers, the Book Sense marketing campaign--which now has nearly 1200 members and 27 publisher partners--and its BookSense.com e-commerce site were the focus of the show. An SRO crowd heard Len Vlahos give an overview of BookSense.com, which is switching its database from Ingram to Baker & Taylor, a move that will give it access to 2.4 million titles.

The BookSense.com system will allow booksellers to choose their own site design from seven templates and five colors. Booksellers also will have the ability to ship a book directly to the customer or to their store for pickup. During the beta test period, booksellers can't discount, but they will be able to do their own pricing following the test. At present, the system d s not allow booksellers to add their own inventory to the database, but Vlahos said that capability will be added in 2001. If there is an order for a book not in the B&T database, booksellers should contact B&T to have it added, and shouldn't add it themselves. As the test unfolds, ABA will establish customer service hours to answer bookseller questions.

Any customer who places an order through the BookSense. com hub site will be directed to the closest BookSense.com store to have the order filled. The site will also carry spoken-word audio and limited music and video.

E-Fair Within a P-Fair
Despite the seminars and hype, there was skepticism among many publishers that e-books will amount to a significant market any time soon. There was little talk of e-publishing by p-book publishers, and several observers noted that traditional publishers were conducting commerce, while electronic publishers were primarily looking for deals.

The sense of the show was that the structure of the industry will not change much in handling e-books: for the most part, the chain remains author; publisher (production); distributor; retailer; reader. Of course, some authors will e-publish their own material, as some already do. And some publishers will sell direct, but again, most of them do so now.

From an e-point of view, the show floor was very disorganized, in large part because the promised Technology Pavilion never materialized. Xerox, Glassbook and Versaware were at one end of the hall, while IBM, Adobe and netLibrary were at the other.

There were many first-time e-exhibitors, some of whom had familiar names, like IBM's publishing software systems, Microsoft's Reader, Sprout's print-on-demand system and Everybook's e-book device. Startups included Bookface.com, ebrary.com, ibooks.com and RealRead, all of which showed text-browsing systems with various payment and copyright protection methods. WordPop/Kanakaris Wireless and ION systems/GalaxyLibrary offered publishing systems.

Many of these companies didn't actually have a product to show, but were demonstrating "proof-of-concept." IBM, for instance, showed how an e-commerce package might help fill out an end-to-end system, publisher to consumer--though its rights management system won't be released commercially for some time. Likewise, ebrary, which has a model of free browsing, with paid downloads and printouts, won't be officially released as a product for at least a month.

There was an odd combination of motives behind this "vaporware." Some observers had the impression that because of Riding the Bullet, the topic is hot and players want to be in the arena now, but the realization is growing that these products and systems will take much longer to get to market than originally thought. A few speculated that some companies were showing publicly at such an early stage to attract venture capital.

Newbies in Chicago
Among other first-timer e-publishers and e-retailers, EcoFabric of San Francisco was offering an alternative to BookSense.com and BookSite for independents to develop their own Web sites. The company claims to have a database of three million titles--achieved by integrating the B&T and Ingram databases. The startup has been working with the small California chain Books Inc. to launch the site. EcoFabric is charging $100 month for the initial setup, plus a $50 monthly fee. The company got one specialty store owner to write a check on the spot.

SeekBooks.com, a Web retailer that also offers independent bookstores an inexpensive way to launch an online bookstore, used BEA to trumpet its "build your own bookstore" plan. SeekBooks.com offers a standard template interface with the store's name and a 600,000-title database, in exchange for a percentage of each sale (6%-18%, depending on whether the title is from SeekBooks' inventory or the store's). The site claims to have more than 100 U.S. booksellers enrolled in the program and more than 120 in the U.K.

A new twist in online publishing comes from eNovel.com of Richmond, Va. The company has agreements with several publishers to publish in e-book format works from their slush piles. ENovel is also looking to partner with a print-on-demand company to offer limited print editions.

Also launched at BEA was PreviewPort.com. The company, with offices in Chicago and New York, describes itself as an online literary community that serves authors, publishers and readers by hosting author Web sites, partnering with traditional publishers to preview books and sponsoring live events and a national literary calendar.

Big E-Deals
Many of the announcements at the show centered on alliances with new media companies. Sprout "inked" agreements with netLibrary and with the Independent Booksellers Consortium; Lightning Source forged deals with Adobe and Amazon.com; and BookZone has also teamed with Adobe for e-books.

NetLibrary was busy expanding on its efforts to become a distributor of e-books by offering print-on-demand services. The new POD services will be offered through a complicated series of alliances with Xerox, BookMobile and Sprout. NetLibrary's alliance with Xerox involves transmitting text files from a remote location and printing the book out at another location, according to netLibrary's Brian Bell. NetLibrary will use POD wholesaler Sprout for print runs of less than 25 copies and digital printer BookMobile for runs of up to 500 copies. NetLibrary also announced deals to distribute more than 350 titles by Millbrook Press as e-books to school and public libraries. NetLibrary also reached an agreement with Houghton Mifflin to embed its American Heritage Dictionary series in all netLibrary e-books.

Fresh on the heels of its iPublish.com e-publishing venture, Time Warner Trade Publishing took a six-figure minority stake in BookFace.com, a Web site offering free, full-text online access to books. According to Larry Kirshbaum, chairman of TWTP, Warner will also be offering "hundreds" of its titles to readers through BookFace.com. And Warner won't be alone. Random House, Penguin Putnam, HarperCollins and St. Martin's also announced deals to provide BookFace.com with content. BookFace sees itself as a new distribution model for publishers. Much like e-publishing pioneer Bibliobytes.com, BookFace.com's free browsing is supported by advertising, and the site pays a percentage of this revenue to publishers and authors. Consumers can also buy any title they browse through a BookFace.com partnership with Amazon.com.

One sign that online retailing is growing abroad as well as here is espiral.com, which was launched in April to sell Spanish- and Portuguese-language books in South America and Mexico. The company is planning a July debut for a service that will sell English-language books in its existing markets.

In one other e-commerce initiative, the AAP and online booksellers announced the new international ONIX standard for presenting information in electronic form about books, which Cindy Cunningham, Amazon.com's manager of the U.S. catalogue team, said would make "huge changes in how book data is received and sorted by us"--and help tremendously in online marketing of books.

Not all first-timers were from the new economy. UPS was at BEA to promote its fulfillment services and other electronic publishing programs. The U.S. Post Office was showing similar services.

And the National Association of College Stores' warehouse operation, NACSCORP, introduced Bookseller's Edge at the show, marking the first time the warehouse has been opened to non-NACS members. NACSCORP stock has been significantly increased to accommodate new customers, and programs have been added, including, for example, 42% discounts on all Book Sense 76 titles. Pam Sedmak, executive v-p and COO of NACSCORP, said that bookseller response was strong. She noted, "They're especially interested in our retail services program," which includes shelf talkers, ad slicks, bag stuffers and more.

More Than Just Harry
The success of Harry Potter was not the only thing children's booksellers were celebrating. In honor of the Association of Booksellers for Children's 15th year, the organization added a full day of programming on Wednesday, focusing on practical tips for members debating having a Web presence and including a presentation by Len Vlahos about BookSense.com. ABC members continued to voice the need for nominations of strong children's titles for the Book Sense 76 list, both forthcoming and backlist titles. The highlight of the day for many ABC members was a kind of Book Sense 76 of their own, in a session at which they talked about favorite titles new and old.

Web discussions continued into Thursday, when the ABA/ CBC Joint Committee hosted an afternoon of programming kicked off by Michael Hoynes, who discussed ABA's positioning of BookSense.com to play up "the core qualities that differentiate independents from other bookstores." As a follow-up, panelists Anne Ginkel of Hobbit Hall, Atlanta, Ga., Ellen Davis of Dragonwings, Waupaca, Wis., and Collette Morgan from Wild Rumpus, Minneapolis, Minn., discussed how they have set their stores apart from nearby chain stores and Internet suppliers. Other topics included how to attract the business of teachers and librarians and how to maximize the visual presentation of books and other merchandise to draw customers into the store.

An ABFFE/ALA panel on censorship, "Wild About Harry," afforded the SRO audience an opportunity to ask how bookstores can lend support to teachers and librarians in their communities to defend books like the Harry Potter titles, targeted by conservative groups, from being banned. Panelist Judy Blume, moved by the community involvement of Cammie Mannino of Halfway Down the Stairs in Rochester, Mich., thanked her by saying, "If only I could clone you." Blume added, "What better way to learn the First Amendment than with a book [children] feel passionately about."
Impertinent impersonators spread the
news about Thrillennium's Made You Look.
At a well-attended panel called "Targeting Teens," representatives from Alloy.com and Teen People Book Club told of their companies' efforts to attract teens to reading through catalogues and Web sites that feature interactivity. Nancy Pines of Pocket Books said there are an abundance of teen consumers who spend heavily on entertainment, but they are also fickle and face many distractions that are "cooler" than reading. Ellen Garrison of Borders spoke of various strategies her stores are employing to attract this audience, such as moving the teen books section away from the children's section; starting programs specifically for this age group; and creating "theme-product destinations" by displaying music, videos, periodicals, books and sidelines on the same theme together. And librarian Amy Alessio of Schaumburg Township, Ill., said that teen circulation has gone up 125% in her library thanks to many programs and events instituted specifically for teens.

African-American Booksellers
Considering the enthusiastic turnout at the African American Booksellers conference on Thursday and discussions with black booksellers and distributors, independent black bookselling seems healthier than ever. Booksellers packed the hall to hear former prizefighter Rubin "Hurricane" Carter give a rousing and inspirational talk about the plight of death row inmates, his own life and the recent bestselling (particularly in black stores) biography Hurricane by James Hirsch (Houghton Mifflin). Carter was freed in 1985 after being imprisoned for 20 years for a murder he did not commit.

The panel discussions and events that followed were equally well attended by booksellers and publishers showing off their authors. There was also an impressive group of self-publishers, many established, who were promoting their books to booksellers and to major publishers.

Clara Villarosa, former owner of the Hue-Man Experience in Denver, Colo. (she has sold the store and plans to move to New York City), estimated attendance at the evening reception, sponsored by Ingram, at around 300. The event featured five self-published authors and five major publishers showcasing a number of promising authors, who set up at tables to autograph books and chat about their new titles.

On the floor, Kassahun Checole, president and publisher of Africa World/Red Sea Press, both a publisher and arguably the largest African-American distributor, told PW that "not only are there more African-American booksellers" in attendance, "but they are more professional. They are learning the trade and asking serious questions." Checole also emphasized that black booksellers are showing an interest in "a wider variety of books. They are realizing that African-Americans are interested in all kinds of books."

Booksellers mentioned several strong-selling nonfiction titles by Lerone Bennett Jr. (Forced into Glory: Abraham Lincoln's White Dream), Jesse Jackson (It's About the Money) and Randall Robinson (The Debt), and the Rubin Carter biography. However, James Fugate, owner of Eso-Wan Bookstore in Los Angeles, complained that "there is still not enough product aimed at the African-American community" coming from publishers. Emma Rodgers, owner of Black Images Book Bazaar in Dallas, agreed with him, but she also told PW she expected a strong summer showing from upcoming fiction by Eric Jerome Dickey (Liar's Game), Rosalyn McMillan (The Flip Side of Sin) and Nelson George (One Woman Short). She was also enthusiastic about Evelyn Palfrey, a self-published author of three novels that have sold a combined total of 20,000 copies. Palfrey's novels have been picked up by Pocket Books, which is reissuing the first of the series, The Price of Passion, in August.

BEA also featured a well-intentioned effort to address the industry's perennial problem of attracting nonwhite staff. However, the panel, "Minorities in Publishing--Where Is Everyone?," sponsored by the Women's National Book Association, was poorly attended and likely suffered from being held on the last day.

BEA en Espanol
This year BEA introduced a Spanish-language pavilion on the show floor, as well as a variety of educational seminars and roundtable discussions devoted to Spanish publishing, marketing and selling. In its third year, the Latino Book Summit met for a full day on Thursday. The common goal: how to meet the growing needs of the more than 31 million Hispanics in the U.S.

The 5,000-sq.-ft. pavilion featured country collective stands from Spain, Mexico, Colombia, Argentina and Chile. First-time exhibitors included Panorama Editorial of Mexico City and Giron Spanish Book Distributors of Chicago.

Alfaguara, Santillana Group's Spanish literature publishing house, announced it will begin publishing Spanish-language titles specifically for the U.S. market this fall. The move allows Alfaguara USA to make the strategic switch from distributor of books published by its sister companies in Spain and Latin America to publisher of original works by U.S. authors for the local Latino market.

Success South of the Border
Canadian publishers opted out of their usual, communal presence, flying solo with their own booths.

"This year the Canada stand was an informational and message stand," Monique M. Smith, executive director of the Association of Canadian Publishers, explained. "It is a testament to the success of Canadian publishers at BEA that they no longer wish to be represented at a joint stand."

Many of the Canadian publishers felt the show was quieter than in previous years, but was a necessary venue to keep in touch with their U.S. and international contacts. Jack David, president of ECW Books, which d s 65% of its business in the U.S., said, "Everyone comes to Chicago to meet the Canadians," explaining that he was at BEA to meet his Montreal partner and Australian distributor.

Marc Alain, CEO of Modus Vivendi in Quebec, comes to BEA "to buy publishing rights for the French side of my operation, as well as to find distribution lines for my products in Europe, Australia and the U.S."

Anna Porter, publisher of Key Porter Books, called BEA "adventurous." She said, "In Canada, we are large fish in a Canadian pond. Down here we are a croaker, and we are meeting other croakers."

Around Audio
Audio publishers were in good spirits--several APA members praised president Paul Rush for publicizing the audio medium and organizing programs for the association.

At the APA conference, held on Thursday, 100 walk-in registrations swelled attendance to standing-room-only levels. The conference offered a mix of themes: panels on wireless digital technology and a fun presentation of new "gadgets" for downloading and listening to audio were balanced by concrete, nuts-and-bolts panels on copyright law and ways that mid-sized publishers can better manage cash flow.

Independent publishers won 20 of the 26 Audie Awards, and NewStar Media was the big winner with six awards.

What Do Libraries Want?
Librarians had several opportunities to tell publishers what their users need during the show. At two sessions hosted by Library Journal--"Day of Dialog," attended by approximately 200 librarians and several publishers, and "What's Hot, What's Not: Trends in the Library Market"--a repeated refrain was that there are not enough books in Spanish, or enough books, despite increased publishing, about and for African-Americans (a need also expressed at the African-American Booksellers Conference).

Librarians also focused on e-books, both at the "Day of Dialog," where several companies demonstrated new products, and on two panels. Librarians expressed the need for help to sort through all the information they anticipate will be published in e-format, both from publishers about editing and marketing the books, and from the review media. They also expressed dissatisfaction with many current sales models, which do not address the need to lend a single item to several borrowers at one time.

Although official figures are not yet available, observers had the strong sense that there were many more librarians at this show than the 500 who attended the event last year in Los Angeles. Collection development librarians, who are responsible for buying books for their libraries, represented nearly every major public library in the country as well as a number of academic libraries. The major attraction of the show is, of course, "The books!" as most of them responded, but also the opportunity to network with other collection development librarians.

Religion Found
Religion/spirituality exhibitors expressed satisfaction, even enthusiasm, with this year's show. The Religious/Spirituality/Inspirational section was well-positioned and saw good traffic, but publishers in the category could be found throughout the convention floor. Thomas Nelson enjoyed what might have been the most favorable location of any religion house, with a large, airy exhibit at the front of the hall that was constantly busy. Eerdmans played it both ways, exhibiting in the RSI section as part of the Alban Books consortium (listed under Abingdon), but also taking a booth in the children's section, where its high-quality line drew positive attention, according to editor-in-chief Judy Zylstra. Next year Eerdmans plans to duplicate that strategy and will have a booth of its own in the general trade section for its adult titles. "Although now we are best-known in the ABA for our children's books, we need to continue to build our identity there for the adult books,'' noted publicity director Anita Eerdmans.

Ingram stressed the vitality of its religion business, touting religion book merchandising as one of five major service areas. PW itself placed major emphasis on religion at the convention, promoting the launch of its newest product, Religion BookLine, an e-mail newsletter for religion book consumers and professionals. The twice-monthly online publication, which will be free to subscribers of the print magazine, will debut in late summer. Other signs of the category's strength included four towering kiosks shadowing the entrance to the show floor that promoted Health Communications' new Judaica imprint, Simcha Press, as well as its Chicken Soup line, still spawning new offspring and going strong.

Several high-profile events had religious or spiritual themes. On Saturday, the Swedenborg Foundation celebrated its 150th anniversary by hosting an elegant luncheon featuring five authors discussing "Aligning with the Sacred in the New Millennium." Making evident its own growing emphasis on spirituality, Rodale hosted two major events. The first, the Independent Publishers Day luncheon on Saturday, featured Marianne Williamson, editor of Imagine: What America Could Be in the 21st Century, a November release from Rodale's Daybreak spirituality imprint, and contributors James Redfield and Sarah Ban Breathnach. Rodale also hosted a dinner at which Williamson and other Imagine contributors table-hopped during a five-course feast.

One segment of the religion/spirituality market continues to wrestle with self-definition. At the NAPRA pavilion, founder and president Marilyn McGuire told PW of yet another name change for the organization, originally known as the New Age Publishing and Retailing Alliance and most recently called New Alternatives for Publishers, Retailers and Artists. The acronym now refers to Networking Alternatives, signifying both the group's efforts to distance itself from the term New Age and a reflection of what McGuire sees as the primary benefit of the association. "We connect people," she said. "Some like the term 'cultural creatives,' while others like the name 'evolutionaries.'" Though she said that "cultural creatives are big book buyers," she added that less than 50% of New Age specialty stores' revenues now come from book sales.

Next Year in Chicago
BEA returns to Chicago next year, June 1-3, then heads east in 2002 to New York City, for an early show, May 3-5. In 2003, BEA will be in Los Angeles; 2004 in Chicago; and 2005 in New York City.

--John Mutter, with reporting by Jennifer M. Brown, Leah Eichler, Lynn Garrett, Paul Hilts, Kevin Howell, Bridget Kinsella, Karin N. Kiser, Daisy Maryles, Jim Milliot, Calvin Reid, Nora Rawlinson, Diane Roback, Trudi M. Rosenblum, Phyllis Tickle
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