Indies See Surge at BookExpo America
BookExpo America attendees browse the show floor.
Journalist Dan Rather welcomed his many fans as they lined up for signed copies of his latest book, Rather Outspoken: My Life in the News, at the recent BookExpo America trade show. (Photo by Don Chatham)
Walter Dean Myers at the Children’s Book and Author Breakfast.
By Bill Ott
Long before the controversies that now bedevil the book publishing and bookselling industry—ebook polices and the many-tentacled presence of Amazon.com—appeared on the horizon, there was still concern about the lack of actual booksellers on the floor at the annual BookExpo America (BEA) trade show. The convention, many worried, had become a subsidiary-rights show, with interactions between publishers and booksellers growing less and less frequent.
This year, however, the buzz on the floor during BEA’s June 4–7 meeting at New York’s Javits Center was very different. Blue badges (those worn by booksellers) were much more in evidence, and the spirit among independent booksellers was noticeably upbeat. “We were down, but we’re on our way back,” seemed to be the prevailing sentiment, and the numbers backed up the mood, with American Booksellers Association CEO Oren Teicher citing a 13.4% increase in sales from the indies.
Also contributing to the optimism that suffused Javits Center was the dramatic increase in traffic. The crowds in the center aisles reminded veterans of the halcyon days in the late 1980s and early 1990s, with booksellers and librarians (an ever-growing segment of the BEA audience) jostling to get their hands on giveaway galleys and enduring labyrinthine lines to have their loot autographed by favorite authors.
Adding to the crowds on the last day of the show, dubbed Consumer Day, were members of the book-loving general public, allowed to purchase tickets for the first time. Some publishers expressed concern about the effect an influx of up to 1,000 consumers would have on the business of BEA, but no disruptions were apparent on the floor, and some observers expressed the opinion that, in the future, BEA may reinvent itself as a public book fair rather than an industry book show.
The industry’s 300-pound gorilla, Amazon, was still definitely in the room, but it was anything but ignored. At the June 4 opening session of the 10th annual ABA Day of Education (also called “Why Indies Matter”), celebrated author Richard Russo, whose daughter, Emily, is an independent bookseller, declared, “I don’t want independent bookstores to survive. I want them to thrive.” He said, however, that the indies need publishers to “find a spine” and resist such Amazon policies as selling ebooks for $9.99. “Like most bullies, Amazon will back down, [but] you have to stand up,” Russo said.
Beyond the policy debates and the inspirational calls to action, there were the books—advance reading copies of all kinds arranged in artfully designed towers that quickly disappeared as hungry book people engaged in one feeding frenzy after another.
Which titles inspired the most buzz? Certainly Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior (HarperCollins) was high on most must-read lists, along with Junot Díaz’s This Is How You Lose Her (Riverhead), Justin Cronin’s The Twelve (Ballantine), Michael Chabon’s Telegraph Avenue (Harper), and Lee Child’s A Wanted Man (Delacorte). And don’t be surprised if the much-touted first novel, The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers (Little, Brown), isn’t running right alongside the big names when this fall’s bestseller derby hits the finish line.
BILL OTT is editor and publisher of ALA’s Booklist.
American Libraries, Wed, 06/20/2012 - 09:40