Saturday, June 1, 2013

A Little About Book Expo--What's Changed, What's the Same.

Believe it or not, this is my 28th Book Expo slash American Booksellers Association convention. It would have been my 30th, but I skipped two, the two times I transitioned jobs, in 1986 and 2009. In some ways the world is a very different place.

a. The makeup of the booths is very different. Lots of tech companies, for example, and of course a consolidation of large publishers, though many were already owned by corporate entities. There were booths for Crown, Dutton, Putnam, Harcourt, Doubleday/Dell, Scribner/Atheneum/Macmillan (and if I went back a little further, those last two would be a little separated out), Ecco (albeit a tiny one), Schocken, Ten Speed, and if I had the patience, a list another page long.

I would like to say that there are more gift vendors, for example, but I think there have been earlier attempts to add these vendors to the show, and honestly, they come and go. I'm not sure where the show is in competing on a world stage as a rights fair. I'm pretty sure it is still secondary to Frankfurt and Bologna, and still might have secondary cache as a general show compared to the London Book Fair. But these are quick and unfounded observations. Who knows?

b. Even I don't carry around the heavy book with all the listings. Sadly that is mostly because there is one no more. I loaded the app, but I was disappointed the BEA did not offer the ABA programming there. Hope that is fixed next time. It wasn't like it was several years ago when a lot of the publishers tried to stop offering printed galleys and offered us e-galleys. It didn't work, but I have to say, there are now a lot of booksellers (though hardly all) who would read them.

c. Speaking of change, the makeup of the bookselling world has changed too. Of course I no longer see Borders badges on the floor, or B. Dalton, Walden, Crown, Tower, or the other regional operations, like Kroch's and Brenatano's, Olssson's, Encore, Lauriat's, and so forth. Heck, I think at an early show I had a conversation with someone from Taylors, a regional group of stores (I had to say chain in these cases, when the store so clearly operated like an independent) in the Dallas area.

I love this quote that this blogger found from the early 1990s that was reprinted in the Dallas Observer: "We believe in the full-price value of the books we sell. We are not like other companies who focus on bestsellers and are not able to find the books on the shelf when they need them. We want the books to be there, and we want our employees to be experts in our customers need." I think this probably could have been phrased better, but it was tough then, as we had trouble controlling the conversation.

d. I think the ABA has a clearer marketing plan for independent booksellers to differentiate themselves from other channels. I think in the old days, they had to spend a lot more time running the convention.

That said, a lot of things have stayed the same.

a. There are still parties. The parties used to be over the top, and now they are generally just a restaurant and some snacks, in one case, twenty different variations on bread, but they are still parties. The big difference is that it is rare to budget a party for one book. In most cases, the publisher brings a whole mess of authors. And for the several I went to, it's not easy to meet the authors, though I did have a nice conversation with Dagmara Dominczyk, author of The Lullaby of Polish Girls (Spiegel and Grau), which is coming out Tuesday.

If anyone is reading this from ABA, you are having problems with your cover feeds on our website. Just saying.

I actually went to the Open Road party to say hello to Adam Langer, one of my favorite authors, who has a new novel called The Salinger Contract coming out this fall. Open Road was going to be an ebook only operation, but now has a print component, which is not just pod (print on demand) but (at least supposedly) traditional printing as well. I'm excited to see that stock has come into the warehouse at Ingram (their distribution partner) for the Barbara Pym titles.

b. There are still booths. I actually saw a slight shift back to meetings on the floor from off-the-floor meeting areas this year. Last year I got so frustrated that I couldn't have accidental interactions with publishers that I went to heavy scheduling. In the end, it actually worked out ok, as I didn't leave the show area at all during all three days, giving me time to walk most of the aisles. I still got to have on-the-spot book talks with smaller but still important to us vendors, like Graywolf.

The booths are smaller, sometimes dramatically so for publishers who have meeting space elsewhere. Macmillan has little more than an information stand. And a lot of publishers don't even have books on the floor. But as I said before, in most cases the experiement with the disappearing galley has reversed itself.

c. The floors are still crowded with luggage carts. I noticed last year that the did a particularly good job of keeping them off the floor. There must have been a rule that you couldn't bring them the first day, as by the second I was tripping over them. One woman brought her kid in a stroller, got to the floor, made the kid walk, and stuffed her stroller with books. I know this woman! She's the one who insisted that the Mary Higgins Clark novel she bought from me twenty years ago was for her elementary school class and demanded the teacher discount.

d. Everybody else is always selling something to you (either directly or indirectly) and I must admit, I am always trying to sell the store, especially for events. Now I try to be more subtle than some, but that's because I have the luxury of having what is viewed as a good program. But I have learned that sometimes one disappointing event can trip you up with a publisher, which is why I try to take nothing for granted.

e. There are just a ton of new interesting books out there; it just makes your head spin. I had so many interesting conversations with folks in all aspects of publishing, not just authors and sales managers and publicists, but editors and directors, and distributors too. At one dinner, I had a fascinating time with the legendary editor Jonathan Segal. We not only discussed some of his upcoming titles (one of his authors is doing research in Wisconsin as we speak for a very exciting book), but the increase in interest we're likely to see for the Robert Reich's Aftershock as the new documentary film based on the book, "Inequality for All" rolls out in theaters.

Books driving documentaries and vice versa seems to be a theme this year. In just a few weeks we're seeing the opening of Jeremy Scahill's Dirty Wars in Milwaukee, and one of the highly anticipated books this fall is a combination book/documenary release of a book about J.D. Salinger. Here's the piece in The New York Times. The book is called The Private War of J.D. Salinger. You can preorder it from us now, you know. Just ask link, order, and ask for in-store pickup. It's just like calling.

f. The show is still a place to start spreading buzz. I ran into editor David Ebershoff and he started telling me about Jennifer Dubois's new novel, Cartwheel. You may remember that we just read A Partial History of Lost Causes for our in-store book club. They are crashing the book onto the fall list, something Mr. Ebershoff says he really hasn't done before. It's a very different kind of book, timely and exciting.  Since the web page on our site doesn't say what the hook is, I'll leave it out here as well, but it's fascinating.

g. You can still gush over an author. Usually this involves standing in line for an hour, which honestly, I just don't have time for, but whether your taste runs to Doris Kearns Goodwin (her new work of nonfiction is The Bully Pulpit) or Neil Gaiman (The Ocean at the End of the Lane comes out June 18th), you can go full-on groupie.  My gush was Alice McDermott, whose long-awaited novel, Someone, comes out in September. That's the kind of guy I am.

h. Books can be made at the show. I did my part by giving a rousing 45 seconds or so (I think I went over) for Antoine Laurain's The President's Hat. It's the kind of book that just about any indie bookseller can get behind and sell a ton of copies. I'll be talking about it more in the month's to come. It is part of the "Indies Introduce" program, formerly "Celebrate with Indies", formerly "Daniel, will you read a whole bunch of books for this committee?"

g. Crazy little things can capture the imagination of the show. The prized object was clearly the animal balloons (I saw a dog, cat, and pig, so there must be more) that have little paper legs that look like they are walking. You lead them on a leash. I think we can sell them. Every time I went to the booth, the line was really long. Thank you to my model Courtney!

I also liked the Mad Libs removable stickers in the bathroom.

h. Unlike some years, the mood is generally optimistic. I don't know what category to put that in.

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