Friday, May 26, 2006

Book Expo America

I just got back from attending my first BookExpo America, the big trade show put on by the American Booksellers Association. It was remarkably different than attending an ALA conference in both format and intent. While the librarians tend to focus on continuing education, favorite authors and upcoming product lines and new books, the booksellers were out there making deals, parading their latest writers and giving aways TONS of free books and other merchandise. It was clear that money was the name of the game in every aspect. Individual librarians like myself were completely ignored by vendors as we wandered up and down the massive convention center. That was sort of refreshing, as it made for carefree browsing, and sort of sad, as it was clear that our role in getting books to readers was considered unimportant in the publishing world. Not even lip service was paid during the enormous banquet hall meals (terrible and virtually non-existant food, by the way....the librarian crowd would never put up with that) during which prominent authors spoke about their upcoming books. Prominent at BEA means, best-selling, by the way, and not award winning or literary. It was pretty freaky to see Barack Obama share the podium with Amy Sedaris and John Updike. HUH? That too, was vastly different than ALA where speakers are given an hour or so to share themselves rather than just 15 minutes to tell you to buy their next book. In all it was a fascinating experience, but ultimately unrewarding, as getting a free book from an author is not nearly as satifying as hearing him/her speak from the heart.

1 comment:

Barbara said...

Thanks for the report, Charlotte. It's worth going to something like this if only to gain insight into another part of the book world. I don't think the publishing industry does a good job of "growing the market" for books, spending more time on trying to find the one book that will sell a lot of copies or poaching each other's market. With that sort of myopia, libraries are seen as a kind of legalized piracy. The most thought most big publishers give libraries is the Baker and Taylor line on their profit-and-loss statement. Fundamentally, very few of them really "get it."

It's a strange industry. First, you can put a lot into developing an author, only to have him or her switch publishers for their next book; you ship off books to bookstores, and have them come back in six weeks - "It didn't sell, so give me my money back." The profit margins are low and the corporate owners keep thinking they can be higher. (Why they buy publishers in the first place is beyond me; they always seem to think they're not profitable enough.)

But all the same, I wish they had a broader view when it comes to promoting a lifelong love of books and were willing to invest more into it.

I guess the only people who have it worse are newspapers - caught between a corporate drive for profits and a decidedly shrinking market. And the sad thing is, we really need them both.