Last week was BEA (Book Expo America) which is the big trade show for booksellers, publishers and related fields. It was a fascinating show both for its overview of where the industry is and is heading and for me on a personal level.
Five years ago BEA had grown to monstrous proportions. The show floor was so large that it was almost impossible to walk the show during the three days it was open. There were few cities with convention halls large enough to hold it. We enjoyed a last visit to Los Angeles in 2008 and then it was understood the show would remain in New York. The thinking was that so many exhibitors were based in New York that that would represent a cost savings for them and New York would remain a draw for out of towners needing to attend the show–namely booksellers and rights buyers (foreign publishers). BEA had historically been on Memorial Day weekend so booksellers could attend over a long holiday weekend when their shops would be closed. Clearly, that was no longer relevant either.
In fact the question of relevance has dogged BEA for some time. In an industry facing increasing consolidation among booksellers, was there a benefit to having a booth to see a customer base which comprised less than 20% of sales? Contact with the larger customers took place constantly and didn’t involve a booth and product on display. How important was it to spend a lot of money to talk to the indies (independent booksellers) about upcoming books? Or was the show supposed to be about something else, rights sales for instance? These questions were debated ad nauseaum with no greater resolution, for my former employer at least, than smaller booth space and fewer parties.