With the first of the regional bookseller trade shows kicking off later this month, the changes that the associations have been making to their programs in recent years will be scrutinized, as will Random House's decision to experiment this year with opting out of exhibiting on the show floor at the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association while still supporting and attending the show.

“Random House Inc. will be at NCIBA in full force, where we will be doing many traditional and nontraditional things,” said Ruth Liebmann, Random's v-p, director, retail field marketing & merchandising. Inspired by the interactions with booksellers at the American Bookseller Association's Winter Institute over the past two years, Liebmann said Random believes it can facilitate more constructive conversations with booksellers in a hotel suite, where it can hold both organized focus groups and more impromptu meetings. Random personnel from the New York office and from the region will be involved in all the other events of the show, including author breakfasts and receptions.

While some question the logic of how having a hotel suite instead of a booth might facilitate more bookseller/publisher interaction, NCIBA executive director Hut Landon said he understood that Random House, and all of the publishers, are looking to create a more effective model of trade show for exhibitors and booksellers. “Random House is still sponsoring the show—in fact, they added to their sponsorship of the educational programs and gave us some great authors,” said Landon.

Liebmann said Random chose NCIBA for this experiment because of its healthy mix of independent booksellers of all kinds. The regional trade shows are viewed as a collaborative effort between exhibitors and the association. Wendy Sheanin, senior marketing manager at Simon & Schuster, said the company will continue to support the regionals even as they monitor how their programs change. HarperCollins's v-p for independent bookselling, Carl Lennertz, applauded all of the efforts the associations have made to improve the trade shows in recent years.

Among the changes happening this year are Mountains and Plains' inclusion of editors as speakers; Great Lakes having a movable feast with reps instead of authors; North Atlantic creating a sales conference model; and the Southern region's shift in trade show hours that might allow for one fewer hotel night for attendees. The different initiatives will be reviewed by the regional executive directors and presidents before next year's Winter Institute.

While Liebmann said Random appreciated attempts by the associations to find new ways to make the fall meetings more productive, some booksellers in Northern California were not happy with the publisher's decision to move off the exhibit floor, but sounded resigned to seeing how it works out. “Personally, I think they are making a mistake, but they have their reasons,” said NCIBA president Nick Setka from Book Passage. “Of course this is not a popular thing for any publisher to do,” said Tom Montan, CEO of Copperfield's Books Inc., which operates six stores north of San Francisco. “I am hopeful that this move is not a major blow to the trade show.”

The consensus about the regionals seems to be that they are a work in progress, but still one of the more valuable tools in connecting authors with booksellers. Richard Russo, Lisa See and Lisa Scottoline are a few of the authors who have acknowledged they got their initial boost from booksellers they connected with at the regional meetings.