Another month of May has come and gone without BookExpo or any other industry-wide in-person spring show taking its place. As the pandemic subsides, more publishing and publishing-related conferences, meetings, and trade shows are shifting from online-only events to in-person or hybrid events. This raised the question of whether there is interest in seeing a new national in-person fair emerge that could bring together the various segments of the book industry in 2023. Interviews with a myriad of publishers, booksellers and other publishing players only gave a consensus: if a new fair is to be developed, it should not look like the old BookExpo. Indeed, no one wants a new show whose business model is based on exhibitors taking large, expensive stands.
In the absence of in-person exhibitions, publishers have turned to various digital initiatives to reach their business partners, especially independent booksellers. Macmillan said that from June 13-17, he will be hosting the Macmillan Fall into Summer Reading campaign, a week-long virtual preview of upcoming titles released from June through December. A handful of online conferences have also sprung up to fill the void left by BookExpo’s demise, including the TP-US Book Show product. (TP announced plans for a third US Book Show, currently scheduled for May 23-25, 2023.)
The success of their virtual businesses – augmented by their participation in smaller in-person events, particularly those organized by regional bookseller associations and the ABA’s Winter Institute – seems to have convinced larger companies that they can effectively reach the audience they need via Zoom and other online services. As one top publisher noted, “Opportunities for account-facing engagements just aren’t as urgent or productive as they were before Zoom.” All of the largest companies have made it clear that their attendance at an in-person national conference will be limited.
Smaller, independent publishers were more interested in a national event, but only if the show got a complete overhaul from BookExpo in its later years. Booksellers were usually the most enthusiastic about a national event. Many said that creating a larger version of the Winter Institute, but held in the summer, would be an interesting prospect. This timing, however, poses one of many conflicts that any new trade show operator would have to overcome: while booksellers prefer a summer event, publishers generally prefer a trade show in early spring.
Another sticking point is the location of the show. Some booksellers said New York, despite its high cost, was a draw. Since the business publishing world is centered in New York, it makes more sense to have it there, noted Pamela Klinger-Horn, special events coordinator at Valley Bookseller in Stillwater, Minn. “BookExpo was the only time of year when I could see my contacts from every house, every footprint, and most staff,” she explained. “As fabulous as the Winter Institute is, everything the world can’t be there.”
John Evans, co-owner of Los Angeles bookstore Diesel, said he and his partner, Alison Reid, have been discussing what a new show should look like since BookExpo disappeared. He envisions a “sort of summer institute” that includes some training, but is primarily publisher-, author- and publisher-focused and is reserved for booksellers. Evans would like to see the show move around the country and eventually be attached to a regional show.
Evans wasn’t the only one to suggest a national show be held alongside another event. IPG CEO Joe Matthews said he had long thought a national trade show could be held in conjunction with annual events hosted by organizations such as IBPA, PubWest, ECPA or the Book Manufacturers Institute. . And Matthews has a clear idea of what he’d like to see in a new feature of the show: time slots to meet with big industry players like Amazon, Ingram and Barnes & Noble to do company reviews. “It would be very economical and quick for them to meet all their vendors, and great for me to eliminate all those meetings in a week,” he noted.
Lindsay Matvick, publicity manager at Lerner Publishing Group, also endorsed the idea of a show that could be connected to another organization – in Matvick’s view, ABA. “Over the past few months, we have started seeing live library shows, and we feel the absence of a live show aimed at the commercial market,” she added. “Virtual shows are nice in some situations, but the excitement and energy of live, in-person shows can’t be replaced.”
A number of other independent publishers have spoken about BookExpo’s strengths and weaknesses. Milkweed Editions editor Daniel Slager captured the sentiment of many freelancers when he said he had “complicated feelings” about a national show. He explained that Milkweed stopped exhibiting at BookExpo because, at the size of Milkweed, it became difficult to make an impact there. Milkweed has become more invested in the Winter Institute, Slager noted, not only to meet independent booksellers, but also because “it’s a great place to go and be heard.”
Still, there are some things Slager misses about what BookExpo “was like,” like its industry panels, networking opportunities, and media coverage. “Winter Institute is not a media show; it’s really only for publishers and booksellers,” he said, while “BookExpo would still benefit from media coverage outside of trade.”
Chronicle Books stopped exhibiting at BookExpo a few years ago, and for many of the same reasons as Milkweed. “We didn’t have enough new eyes on our publication for the effort it was commanding,” said Chronicle CEO Tyrrell Mahoney, adding that she felt the series had started to feel “very insider-informed.” ‘industry”. By comparison, she noted, ALA’s annual conference is easy to exhibit and features the type of authors who can draw crowds to the Chronicle booth. In addition to the ALA conference, Chronicle still exhibits at a number of regional and national trade shows.
Attending trade shows, Mahoney said, gives the publisher the chance to showcase its brand and “showcase who we are. It’s one of the few times we can collect all our books. And for that reason, she noted, she wouldn’t say a definite no to a new trade show. “I should think about what was lost during this time. I’d say we’ll never show at the scale we once did, however, that doesn’t make sense anymore.
Valerie Pierce, director of marketing, retail and creative services at Sourcebooks, ticked off a host of reasons why she prefers a spring show: “It brings us together as a publishing community, it gives authors opportunities to talk to people. who buy and sell their books, it gives authors and publishing staff the opportunity to participate in sessions where they can discover new ideas that can help shape the business, and it creates a platform to launch very great fall books.
The other big advantage of an industry-wide trade show, Pierce said, is that it creates the opportunity for unexpected deals. “Our partnership with America’s Test Kitchen grew out of BookExpo,” she added.
Pierce would like to see a show that combines the Winter Institute model “with the best of BookExpo sprinkled in”, naming features like Buzz Book sessions; publisher-bookseller meetings; speed dating of representatives, editorials and advertising; author’s opening speech; and author receptions.
Dominique Raccah, Founder and CEO of Sourcebooks, agreed that attending BookExpo helped Sourcebooks get started. “The opportunity to meet our customers, develop relationships with new customers, and work together to grow the business is exciting and essential to a vibrant and thriving book ecosystem,” she said.
Raccah believes a national event should be a key cultural initiative for the industry, and a number of others have wondered why the world’s largest book market doesn’t have its own trade fair. IPG’s Matthews said the lack of an industry-wide event is preventing publishing heavyweights from coming together. “We don’t have a national show that brings out the heads of houses and the CEOs like London, Bologna and Frankfurt do,” he noted.
As president of the Combined Book Exhibit, which organizes the United States pavilion at several international events, Jon Malinowski is in frequent contact with foreign publishers and publishers’ associations. “The only comment we hear repeatedly is that the United States should have a professional book fair for the publishing industry, and that it would not only include rights sales, but also retail and online, distribution opportunities, digital initiatives and other elements,” Malinowski said. “They want a place where they can network, exchange ideas and find new business opportunities.”
Networking and schmoozing were also on the minds of many other former BookExpo attendees. Nina Barrett of Bookends & Beginnings bookstore in Evanston, Ill., said dinners and parties shouldn’t be overlooked. “It’s a people thing,” Barrett said, “and if we don’t have those social opportunities to hang out with our peers and also hang out with editors and authors, the whole business becomes a different animal – almost like a world where you do all your book shopping online from an impersonal website.
Despite the value industry members have seen in the networking opportunities offered by BookExpo, it seems unlikely that a new national in-person trade show will emerge in 2023. An industry insider captured the dilemma of any company or organization aspiring to start a new trade show would be faced with: an industry-wide show is not feasible, she said, because “the big boys don’t care and the small presses don’t need it most cannot afford it”.
A version of this article originally appeared in the 06/13/2022 issue of Weekly editors under the title: Filling the gap at BookExpo