So this week, the Booksellers Expo (BEA) moves from New York City to Chicago, and for the first time in many years, I won’t be attending. Danielle has a client—the marvelous Mimi Cross, speaking on a panel—so she wins, and will be flying off to Chicago on Thursday.
I think it was a huge mistake by the BEA to move the expo. I know it’s the way it was done for many years—like Bouchercon, it moved around the country, giving different areas the occasional opportunity to host the publishing industry. It allowed booksellers from the local region to come and spend less money than if they travelled all the way to New York. It’s fair to do it that way.
But it’s going to make for a far less interesting fair than when it’s held in New York; and it will have a detrimental effect on the professionals in the publishing houses and agencies based in New York—the vast majority of the industry.
Since BEA settled into the Javits Center, publishers and agencies have used the conference not simply to put up booths and showcase their books for the sellers and librarians, but also to allow their employees to walk around the fair and see what the competition has to offer. If only the most senior editors and publicists are attending the fair in Chicago this year, in the past I would walk around Javits and see everyone from editorial assistants on a half-day excursion to four or five mid-level folks standing around and schmoozing. It’s old home week, and it lets the less experienced (if they are paying attention) to get a real sense of the scope and breadth of the industry.
And you could get a sense of how Publishing was doing as a whole, too, by the tenor of the floor. Right after the big layoffs of 2008-9, and for a few years following, BEA was tentative and uninspired. Everyone was looking over at the Amazon booth the year it arrived, and walked stealthfully by the digital publishing companies. It wasn’t really until 2014 that I started to see a bounce in the collective step. In Chicago, only the highest-ranking officials will be there, and they will be on message. Booksellers and librarians can create their own buzz, but it’s only a segment of the real story, which will be missing.
Booksellers and librarians (and authors), too, enjoyed the excuse to come to New York for a few days, even if they spent half their time either commuting to the Far West Side to the Center or complaining about how horrible Javits is. But publishers feted them, and they got to go see where the pulse of the business in the US really emanates from.
This takes nothing away from Chicago itself—I’m really bummed I’m not going to go see my friends there. I’d be writing the same post if it were in Los Angeles or St. Louis or even (God Forbid) Philly. (I joke.) I simply believe that the most valuable locale for the most significant book fair in the US ought to be where the vast majority of people who work in that industry are located.
So to everyone on their way—have fun! Post and blog and take pictures and tell me I’m wrong! With all this complaining, I’m insanely jealous. I hope it’s amazing (and if you’re going to be there, go to Mimi’s section!
I’ll look forward to next May 31, when BEA returns to New York.