The 2009 Book Expo America: Report From the Front Lines at the Intersections of Content and Technology

Perhaps never in a trade event that's supposed to be about books has there been so much discussion of communicating beyond the physical printed book. With e-readers finally reaching critical mass, with publishing empires tumbling, with social media networks such as Twitter and Facebook signing up hundreds of thousands of users in weeks, and with citizen access to creating their own media at an all-time high, the book industry is dramatically different than even a few short years ago.

One image that came up in panel after panel: publishers as curators: as the people who help sift out the gems from the dross in an amazingly crowded field of information and entertainment. If past trends are any indication, 2009 is the year that the number of freshly published titles in the U.S. will exceed half a million. That's at least 1369 books published every day of the year, and about 12 times as many as twenty years ago. Thus, the role of curator is crucial.

Much of the attention among thought leaders is going toward grasping a world where mobile phones may be as key in the next few years to reaching the public as television was thirty years ago. As phones get more and more capable, and as the first generation that grew up with mobiles reaches adulthood, the media landscape will be drastically altered. Already, we see people reading books on the iPhone Kindle application... using text messages not only to communicate one-to-one, but to mobilize around causes, participate in surveys, and yes, buy products... and more-or-less abandoning e-mail to the older generation, preferring to communicate via Facebook, Instant Message, and texting. For the first time in my life, I even overheard the phrase, "Did you get my text?"

Here are some of the thought-leaders of the space, expanding the boundaries of the possible—or, in the case of some of the large mainstream organizations, discovering anew the trends that independent publishers have been actively discussing and harnessing for several years. Following the discussions, a short bulleted list of trends I observed.

Nanobytes On the Impact of Social Media (My title; the show simply called it "Social Media")

Chris Brogan, author, Trust Agents: Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Reputation, and Earn Trust, and Erik Qualman, author of Socialnomics: How Social Media Transforms the Way We Live and Do Business (Ed Nawotka, Publishers Weekly, moderator):

[Editor's Note: This conversation was somewhat more linear than it appears here, in part because I left out most of the moderator's comments, and also because these guys talk fast and I couldn't keep up. There was a lot of topic jumping, which is reflected here, and also a number of very important insights and experiences, which I've attempted to capture.]

Erik: the new marketing is about listening.

Chris: It's all there to be seen. There are no rocks to hide under; you have to be authentic.

Erik: (When customers lie to companies) You can't have that social schizophrenia of being wild on the weekends and professional in the business world. You have to live as if your mother is watching you. Fastest growing segment on Facebook: Females, 55-65, they want to talk to their grandkids.

People want to get on Twitter and shout what they're doing, but it's like going to a cocktail party and yelling, 'this is why I'm great.' [You need to understand the culture.]

Great companies embrace negative feedback.

Chris: I don't have a TV, but I saw this cool Cadillac at a stoplight. I twittered, 'does it make me an old man if I think this Cadillac is sexy?' And I got invited to GM and to meet the CEO.

As for customers supplying false information: what marketer writes a survey that gives real information instead of where you want to go?

Erik: Take a step back and look at how this relates to old business models. The music industry should have embraced this, no distribution or production cost, give some for free and get the sale. Publishers should get on to social media, don't wait. Identify the two or three you think have the best chance of success and get out there. It's better to fail than to do nothing.

Chris: Nobody wants to talk to a company logo they want to talk to the human inside. Robert Scoble made Microsoft human. Earn lots of points: when you do something wrong, talk about it. We do business with people, and we try to be there before the sale, have a relationship.

Erik: You can't keep up with every possible tool. Look at your industry, look at what offers the best chance for success.

I wanted to test on Twitter what would happen, I'd respond, thanks for forwarding that column, what did or didn't you like? And then I say, I write more about it in my book. And one writes back and says, if you're going on a book tour, I'll bring 100 people and buy 100 books. Another one in London, what do I need to fly you over? These are not people I know. I just started an initial conversation that wasn't "my book's great," but "what did you like?" It's more like Dale Carnegie than David Ogilvy: listening first, selling second.

Chris: The tools are there to get us to the people. Facebook grows by 700,000 a day, but it's hard to convert those people into business.

Next: Twitter + location. Smart phones, 'velvet-rope' social networks--not everybody's invited. There's lots of places to have the conversation in the commons, but we need to have places for professionals, B2B, special industries.

Erik: The field of nightmares is build it and nobody will shows up.

Howard Schultz backed a site on language learning. There's a knitting site that's invitation-only. I was the only male in a room of 200, and they were all over 55, and they were passionate!

Chris: I build a relationship ahead of coming to an event, I connect through the virtual means so we have the relationship after the fact. Once you have that conversation, how do you customize it? It's not always one at a time. Talk to the mass and then build the smaller relationships across your platforms.

Erik: We're going to look back in two or three years, and look at Google like glossy fax paper, how did we ever deal with this? It's too generic. It needs to know when I search for Paris, if I want Paris Hilton or the city. The way it should work is I do a search in Facebook and it'll say, 'of your 200 friends, 30 have purchased a baby seat. 20 of them purchased this seat at this price at this store.' 70% of all people want a peer referral, and you can see why Google wants to acquire one of these companies.

Chris: I only use Google for addresses, local search. I ask Twitter. I get answers, and I am sometimes led astray, but there's trust. Human-curated search is much more important. If you're not sure who your friends really are this is where you Google, and they'll leave footprints all over the net.

Erik: Facebook is working on segmenting network friends and the general universe.

Chris: I'm a promiscuous linker. You never know where the opportunity is. If I'm at the elbow of the transactions, all I have to do is gatekeep and make sure they're not an axe murderer.

Erik: Are there privacy concerns with Facebook Beacon? It's not a zero-sum game, not everyone has to give the data. You should be able to select, purchase by purchase, so your finance doesn't find out too early that you bought a ring. People under 25 rarely use e-mail, they just use social media.

Moderator Eric Nowatka: Does caution have a role? I'm a parent.

Chris: I never put a BrightKite pin on my house, I don't want to say, this is where I live, because my children haven't opted in. I think media training, advertising awareness training needs to start much earlier; there are issues of disclosure, trust, advocacy, awareness. But if someone is scamming you, it'll be brought to surface much faster.

Erik: On Facebook, I'd update my status to say I'm in New York, because I limit my friends. But on Twitter, I'd worry that my house would get robbed. But the Craigslist murder wasn't dependent on the technology

Publishing for the Bit-By-Bit, Always-Connected, Tell-All Generation: Book + Tech Meetup

Good discussion of about 12 people, focusing on how technology will force changes in publishing, how media will converge, why nimble is powerful, how to effectively cross the bridge between creating your own media and being published (going back and forth as appropriate), role of publishers and other curators, including the public and citizen journalists, in sifting the overload.

Key observation, from Mike Dunn, a Vice President at Hearst: kids who grew up in this environment don't consume media holistically, but in tiny bits. They buy one song on iTunes rather than a CD; they cruise the net for the information they need rather than buying a book. Addressing this demographic in a way that they find relevant will be key to the survival of mainstream publishing. They are also always connected (via phones and computers), and unafraid to post in public thoughts and images that the older generation would keep private (on Facebook and elsewhere)

I chose not to distract the flow by bringing out my laptop, so that was the capsule summary I wrote immediately afterward.

The Perseus Experiment: Press Orientation From Show Director and Panelists

Lance Fensterman, director of BEA

BEA member attendees down 30% from 2008, but even with 2007. Journalists up 20% from 2007. We made a concerted choice to pare it down more, tighten credentials. We're pleased that the right people are in the building. The largest drop is Industry Professionals (misc.) Our exhibitors told us they had the least amount of value, and we pared 1500 people. Next year: education, Tuesday, trade show Wednesday and Thursday.

High level conversations, like the Tina Brown roundtable.

The keynote will be a conversation, rather than content being pushed out at you. We've put content on the show floor and programming them with dialogues, authors speaking with the media on a social issue, in a conversation. All the content will be captured digitally and streamed on expocast.com. It's an effort to look beyond the three days of the event and bring it to people who couldn't attend.

We've got connections where bloggers can access the Internet.

Borders.com built a very nice studio; they'll do 70 interviews over the next three days, and those interviews will be repurposed, next to their book on Borders' shelves. Sirius satellite radio also doing interviews.

Next year, the press office and new media zone will be combined into a larger, upgraded space.

The number of new CEOs at publishing houses in the last year is quite astounding.

Tom Allen, new CEO of Association of American Publishers:

BEA gives us a chance to hear about books being published, to book lovers, it's catnip. But for the industry, it's an opportunity to build commercial ties with vendors, editors, agents, media. And it's an opportunity for AAP to communicate with members and publishers, and provide services to safeguard copyright interests at home, internationally, and in the digital world

* Free and robust marketplace of ideas, unthreatened by censorship
* Raise awareness and excitement about books, reading
* Develop environmentally sustainable practices.

Oren Teicher, COO of ABA: This partnership with Reed has been extraordinarily successful. Our members continue to view BEA as indispensable. There are fewer of us, so the steady attendance represents an increased percentage since it was last in NYC. Our members tell us the most important thing we can do is to create a venue for booksellers to talk to each other.

My first ABA in 1987 was a dramatically different event. We think Reed is implementing exactly the kind of environment that will make it vital and valuable. We have over 600 BA member booksellers attending educational sessions on how to survive in this difficult environment. It's also a good opportunity to have some fun, and to interact with our friends throughout the book world. This is an unusual community in that there's a tremendous amount of sharing.

When we sold the show to Reed, there was concern about whether this event would continue to serve the needs of independent bookstores. Not only does it, but it's one of the most important events. It's difficult to understand what goes on the other 362 days to prepare for this. It's an extraordinary effort.

Rick Joyce, chief marketing officer, Perseus

Lance asked, what could happen that doesn't usually happen at BEA, and I said, we could publish a book at the show. We're doing Book: The Sequel. Take any book you've ever read, imagine its sequel, write the first line and submit it to us. 30 days ago, we put up a website and asked people to do that. We got over 700. We got many interesting sequels to Moby Dick. At 4:00 today, we're going to stop taking submissions and start publishing, and in 48 hrs we'll publish it in as many formats we can (including 6 different e-formats). Well do it all transparently in the booth, and release it at 4:00 on Saturday, at our booth. We'll have discussions about the jacket, foreign rights... and you're invited to join our conversation, at any time. We want to make sure we're exploring where publishing is going, not just where it came from. There's going to be a lot of different formats in the future, and we want to reach people with the format they want.

Ten most sequelled authors so far:

10. Margaret Mitchell

9. Kafka

8. J.K. Rowling

7. Ayn Rand

6. Mellville

5. Fitzgerald

4. Shakespeare

3. Orwell

2. Dickens

1. Jane Austen

Sample submissions:
* It was the LA Times, it was the NY Times
* Call Me, Ishmael: The Guide to Dating at Sea
* There aren't many friends who are friendly but tasty, and Wilbur was both

There's no way to write a sequel without spoilers. You already know Captain Ahab is dead. You have to think about how we can make sure we're building the future, and putting books in all the places and having all the conversations. We thought we'd use BEA as the only place to do this. Because BEA is the indispensable place to have this conversation. You can follow us on Twitter and Facebook, ask us how we're going to get an audiobook overnight.

CEO Roundtable: Where the Heads of Simon & Schuster, Harper, and Perseus Think the Industry is Going

Tina Brown, moderator: There's a volcanic change in the book industry. Everybody is thinking about restructure, rethink, remarket, and reimagine an industry that's being challenged on every side:
* E-books
* Collapse of newspapers, and book sections
* Fewer places to talk about books to a large audience
* Too many books

CEOs: Brian Murray of HarperCollins, Carolyn Reidy from Simon & Schuster, John Sargent of Macmillan and David Steinberger from Perseus.

Caroline Reidy: When the sale of e-books started, a lot of it was relegated to digital departments, and a lot of us had lower prices on their e-books. A lot of us don't agree with Amazon pricing e-books at $9.95, and we don't sell them to Amazon at a price that would encourage them to sell that low.

Brian: On the plus side, we see a lot of electronic companies coming to us. We want to reach as many different partners and channels. There's a risk that we'll wind up where the music publishers are, but we can learn from them and this could be a very large market.

Tina: I have a friend who said, 'I've downloaded 70 books, I've become a promiscuous Kindle user. Someone mentions a book to me, I download it.'

John: It's a long-term question. It's not when you buy the kindle and are filling it up, but after that, do you actually keep buying more. If you do the math on $9.95, they don't deteriorate in price as you go to different formats—the math can work. But that's a hell of a risk to take. We do what we can to influence Amazon's behavior, but they decide on the price. And if other things don't happen, that becomes quite dangerous for us.

Perseus: The Kindle has demonstrated that the moment for e-books is here. We were talking about them ten years ago but the revolution didn't come. I think you're going to see tremendous innovation and experimentation, and ultimately it will grow the market. The danger is the development of a monopoly. There's someone sitting between the consumers and publishers, and that's unhealthy.

Tina: In the last two years, a tipping point has been reached with our reading habits. There's been this amazing acceleration of reading habits and changes. I now run an Internet site instead of magazines. And after only eight months, couldn't imagine gong back to the old rhythms. It's electric, exhilarating.

Brian: Book content was one of the last media to go on the Internet, and that was an advantage. Consumers are used to paying for book content, it's high-value, and we have more control over how we migrate from print to digital models. I spend a lot of time looking at how that transition can create value and not destroy it. And we have a lot of new partners. Since Kindle 2.0, there has been a rush of new publishers coming to us. And now we're having constructive conversations. There's a lot more interest now than there was six months ago,

Carolyn: It's not just a matter of partnerships, but figuring out how the entire digital world is integrated into the DNA of their thinking in the whole company. The marketing and selling and everything else is all integrated, and it's the same consumer. You need to figure out how you get to that consumer.

People are gong to be downloading books onto machines they have for other reasons: their telephone, their tablet. Once that's easily possible, wirelessly, for all books, that's when the true explosion will happen.

Tina: I never thought people would read books on their iPod.

Carolyn: Or their blackberry. And the $9.95 price is not going to last because there will be other channels.

John: I spend half my time on the traditional books, and the other half, in the very different businesses we have, how big is the pie and how big is our slice of the pie. And trying to figure out how to get to the end consumer. We're having an alarming increase in the piracy sites.

Tina: Textbooks will all be on Kindles when the price comes down to $75.

John: But Kindle doesn't offer the rich learning environment that a computer can. But a large percentage of students never buy ink on paper; they buy downloads.

Perseus: We're moving from a push to a pull market. [Describes his instant book creation/launch at the show): This is how we're going to have to behave in the future.

Tina: Magazine articles are the new books. Magazines are not able to publish journalism anymore. But if you talk about short books, they talk to you like you're crazy.

Carolyn: We just launched a book as an e-book and it did well and we got it into paper in a month.

Brian: We crashed (sped-up) about 150 titles last year, we have very stringent requirements for profitability, and you buy it very close to the time you're publishing, so you have a very close sense of the market.

John: The experience of reading a book is not as rushed as reading a blog or magazine. And developing the necessary market takes time. A bunch of people have to read the 300 pages. If we were to bang everything out quickly, you wouldn't have a market. That takes awhile.

Tina: In terms of viral marketing, there's no reason why you can't grow a book very very fast, like the [2008 presidential] campaigns.

Perseus: We sent out an update, we have 700 submissions, we're closing in 24 hours, submit more or tell your friends. And within an hour...

Carolyn: but then you have to ship the book and that takes a month.

Tina: But couldn't they have it on their iPhones?

John: You have it at two speeds. When the book comes, you want everybody talking about it. But you have magazines that have lead times. If you commit to doing covers on a one-day basis, [I want to talk].

Carolyn: But the bookstore won't make the decision in one day, they're getting books from you and you and you every day.

Brian: The marketing used to start a week before publication, and now it's almost from the time of acquisition, and authors are using flip cameras, and newsletters, e-mails—everything begins much earlier. And we ask if the author has a collection of e-addresses, can they use the sites of retailers to communicate, we do videos of our authors. We get our author to create as much extra content as possible, and we put it on our own sites and as many other sites as possible.

We have an author who writes novels about quilting, so we go to all the quilting sites, and the author wrote little notes and created a buzz. And the authors often know [the importance].

John: But the majority of this stuff doesn't drive a lot of book sales. We had the number one video on Youtube in the UK for three days, and we sold maybe 200 extra books. The income generation is ninuscule.

Perseus: It's getting harder to separate the conversation about the book from the book itself. When there's really something to talk about, an engagement with the material, that IS a bigger sales opportunity. So a lot of times we're finding the opportunities when we see a conversation already happening online. There's a genuine dialogue going on in the social media sites.

Tina: I know plenty of people who've been on Good Morning America, Today Show, and haven't sold books.

John: Mainstream bookstore retail—without it it's impossible to sell any, and with it, it's still very hard to do. The biggest thing is get the book out there into the marketplace.

(Harry Evans, Tina's husband takes over; she has no voice left. Harry is the former publisher of Atlantic Monthly Press as well as, like Tina, a magazine editor.) Harry: And it/s got to start in the industry for it to work. The Today Shows have become less effective, and the Internet hasn't replaced them yet.

Brian: The Internet is a great new vehicle to create world of mouth. But what creates the most awareness is the national publicity, and you have to have your books stacked in the front of stores. [Editor's note: this old-line thinking is very expensive for publishers, and makes the bookstore channel almost irrelevant to small publishers who can't afford millions of dollars to get big piles of a book into every store.] We have to let the avid reader know there are great books in the shops.

Harry: I published A Civil Action and it bombed, but the fault was mine, because we did a bad cover. We republished six months later and it never left the bestseller list.

Perseus: The most interesting conversation in publishing is 'why didn't the book work?'

John: There are a lot of books that we bought knowing they were going to be spine-out or sold mostly to libraries.

Carolyn: Because we know they have a small audience and that's who we published it for.

Harry: How do you nourish a backlist that only sells 10, 20, 30,000.

Carolyn: That's one thing the Internet is good for, to give it shelf space when the bookstores don't want it anymore. And e-books and POD will make this possible.

Brian: Harper Collins is 60 percent backlist. Our children's books are very strong.

Carolyn: We flip it, 40% backlist.

John: Somewhere in between.

Harry: I sit home fuming about Google, that some electronic elf is going to steal my author's breakfast. It's an anti-creative coalition.

John: We're suing them. They have tremendous amounts of intellectual property themselves, and they interpret the copyright laws differently. Now we have an agreement. The danger point is not Google, but what Google enables. In giving a copy to libraries whose main goal is to disseminate information for free, and you can't sue for damages, it becomes a very dangerous thing. So it was to rein in Google, monetize it, and keep libraries from [enabling priacy].

Carolyn: The digitization of content is inevitable. The question is how to establish the controls that enable the rights holder to get paid.

John: We didn't sue for damages. We wanted an acknowledgment in the digital world, it's a bit of a wild west, this will establish precedent that if you're going to make a copy, and if you're going to monetize it, you have to pay for it.

Carolyn: You do not have a right to make a digital copy even if you own someone's physical book. And you have to enable mechanisms so authors can get paid, even if they don't have a publisher standing behind them, even if their publisher's gone belly-up or they self-publish. Now they have the registry.

Harry: This is the central point, to control the revenues that arise from the creative work.

Viral vs. Marketing

Bill Wasik, author of And Then There's This: How Stories Live and Die in Viral Culture (Viking)

Although it's in his subtitle, he doesn't care for the term, 'viral marketing.' He prefers terms like spreadable, passalong, meme

We all have e-addresses now, and it just takes a click to pass a song, a video. It's created a whole new way for people to become successful but hasn't supplanted the old mass-culture way. It's one way you can have surprising successes.

I'm an editor at Harper's; we write 10,000 word articles about ducks. I'm not that comfortable with the instant pace.

I became interested in the spreadability of e-mail. I created, in 2003, The Mob Project: people would converge in some mall, somewhere out in the open, or some private space. I sent the first e-mail to 60 people. Within a few weeks, 400 people would come, and nobody knew it would happen until right before it happened. And then people in other cities started picking up the idea: SF, Minneapolis, around the world. The word "flashmobs" was created (not by me) about a week after these started.

For the book, I looked at viral jokes, viral music (especially indy music), videos, ideas (memes), even viral smears. They spread even if they aren't true.

The phrase, viral marketing, is a contradiction. Things that go viral are content. People don't want to pass along something that's just an ad. They don't want to do the bidding of some kind of sinister marketing campaign. If you can even think that the right word for what it is is marketing, that's not content. It's about something else you're hoping someone will buy.

Viral, but not marketing: HP's ad about playing finger-soccer with a wadded paper ball. But most is marketing but not viral. The moral of the story is give content: not the core, but the extras—show your customers the breadth of what the authors are doing, beyond and outside the books. This can be curated or original.

* Excerpts (authors often have them on their own websites)
* Q&As
* Videos
* Backstories (doesn't give away any of the book and lends itself well to online medium)
* Side projects

Sherman Alexie said at his keynote: People continue to go to independent bookstores because of the intelligence in the selection. That's not just about books but also to promote author events. And almost nobody s doing this.

There's also a tremendous possibility with original material. If you want something original from authors, ask them. Do your own shot Q&A that relates to your community, make a little video, draw a picture of their Thanksgiving dinner. Anything that creates relationships between your store and your readers. If you ask that author something interesting and special, fans of that author will find their way to your site from all over the place.

Extras about you and your community:

* Staff messages/picks
* Facebook pages (Tattered Cover has link to theirs on homepage, has 5000 fans)
* Twitter (if your customers are there, announce events, stay in their minds)
* Games, happenings, instant gatherings—let readers trigger a critical mass for discussion if a certain number are reading the same book

Producers of the movie "Knocked Up" released some fake outtakes, with the director yelling at the cast, or an actor was replaced by an inappropriate younger actor, and they had clearly thought, oh, let's make something funny and get people talking about it.

[Editor's note: A member of the audience asked the question: doesn't that contradict what you said about the impossibility of creating viral marketing? His response: this was content that happened to have a marketing purpose. Personally I side with the questioner. I think that's an arbitrary distinction, and one that largely undermines his argument. I also think he comes at this as an outside observer, a journalist/anthropologist, and doesn't really understand the space he writes about.]

The younger generation grew up with this, but the barriers are coming down. My mom sent me a Facebook request; I didn't even know she was on Facebook. To reconnect with people has drawn a lot of people to the Internet. A lot of the most interesting and impressive growth within the past year has definitely been the older demographics.

What Sherman Alexie said about the demographics [class issues] is certainly true, and unfortunate. We should all be doing a better job of putting books into the hands of people who are growing up with less.

I don't necessarily think this cultural shift is all positive. People get distracted and interrupted. What people love you for is that a human being tells you what you might like based on what you do lie. Online, as they're conversing with actual people, someone is there, typing the words. Some of it is too seductive. You can have 1000 friends on Facebook and spend all day keeping up with them, and you never see anybody in person. I don't see that as a step forward in the annals of friendship.

There are a lot of meta-uses of Twitter, where you can track interesting things about the world. All the searches. (Editor's note: I suggested during the Q&A that booksellers should follow people in their local market)

His tweets: @twithangers (always leaving people wanting more)

[Bookseller in audience: Europa had a special that I wanted to take advantage of, and I Tweeted asking what's good among their books, put in an order and it's been selling like gangbusters. Twitter saves me time!]

Part of Facebook's success is that it knits together a lot of things people were already doing on the web into a user-friendly environment and into networks of friends. It has a lot of granularity; these people can see this, these other people can see that.

The hand-held device is the true revolution: that so many of us have these technologies in our hand, all the time. [Editor's note: this was heard frequently in many quarters at the show; people are now reading e-books on their smartphones.]

Considering I wrote a book on this, I'm doing shockingly little in social media. I just made my Facebook page accessible to people who are not my friends, I recently put up a website. I travel as an outsider, as someone who's interested in what the Web is doing o culture. A lot of books about the Internet are the gnarly specifics about the technology. I'm not a technologist. I think it's great to have a book from someone who wasn't an early adopter.

There's an undercurrent of panic: too much time is spent refreshing the same window, I'm not getting enough done. There's a sense of desperation about how these electronic technologies are affecting their lives. But we cant' turn them off and we wouldn't want to, even with the negative effects. We need to limit their hold on our consciousness and the way we do that is to limit the time. We need time for quiet contemplation.

The Kindle is not going to become the book killer any time soon. It's gong to be useful in bringing books to people who weren't buying books, but it isn't entirely taking a bite out of the physical book market. What makes it superior to online reading is that Kindle separates the act of choosing from the act of reading; it doesn't encourage us to surf and surf, the whole thing is just kept at bay. It has a positive role to play as an electronic device that doesn't have the distracting features.

[Audience: we've had very successful uses of Twitter offering free food at an event in a few minutes, e.g., chocolate tasting, chili tasting during downtown lunch hours, and we sold a ton of chili cookbooks. And the people that couldn't get out of their offices could twitter in their questions and we had a live chat.]

[Audience: I'm in a small town, I follow the local reporters and they follow me back, and they retweet our events.]

If you're online, you have a monitor and a megaphone. If someone makes a problem, you're there to address it quickly, and you may end up with more support.

A lot of authors are dong wonderful stuff and their fans don't know it, and bookstores can be the ways fans find out. And as newspapers are cutting their book coverage, readers need more home bases to find out about books.

Trends on the Show Floor

  • Authorized sequels and spinoffs: Winnie the Pooh (Penguin), Dracula. Miss Alcott's Email (actually a re-release from 2006) (Godine), biography of Louisa May told as she might interpret today's life. Several of Jane Austen books from multiple publishers (at least one with her as co-author, and a whole line of Austen spinoffs from Sourcebooks)
  • Old stuff back in print: Radclyffe Hall
  • Books on autism and ADD
  • Green, green, green—everywhere
  • Economic meltdown—but still a few (especially form McGraw Hill) on how to invest in the stock market
  • Obama (especially in the African-American pavilion but elsewhere too)
  • A few books on progressive politics, including some from houses, many of them focused on either Obama or analysis of foreign policy or economics
  • Tons of seemingly interchangeable business books on leadership and entrepreneurship, including many niche entrepreneur books
  • Nonfiction seems to wildly outnumber fiction this year
  • Mining the niches. Example: Arcadia is now doing books about a single neighborhood as well as the whole-town format
  • Small presses continue to bring forward many fresh-thinking books, and many of the most avant-garde were in the Consortium Distributors stand (Animal Welfare in Islam, The J-Word (novel about antisemitism and a grandfather/granson relationship)) or at IBPA (Taking Woodstock, made into a movie by Ang Lee, is published by tiny Square One Press)
  • Fewer coffee table books, but some of them were just exquisite
  • More mainstream publishers have erotica products, even including HCI—once pretty much exclusively devoted to self-help/recovery and the Chicken soup books, and not much broader
  • Vegan and vegetarian, organic cuisine, and organic gardening are very popular
  • This might be the year of the niche: books on what to eat with a particular health condition (e.g., diabetes); books for teachers on understanding digital social media, many other little slices of community that might in the past have been a website and not a book
  • Many publishers are dong series and brands and branded series
  • Covers seem much more subdued this year, a lot less foil stamping or other expensive touches, except in fantasy
  • Wizard and fantasy books very strong, both juvenile and adult
  • On booth had done up baseball-style trading cards for literary bloggers, and was doing in-booth signings—this might be a first, at least at a book trade show rather than a social media convention
  • Cool nonbook products: A series of math-teaching CDs using hip-hop (www.hiphop-edu.com); innovative pillow-bookstands with a pocket, a page-holding edge that you can easily fold out of the way when you turn the page, and the ability to shape themselves to whatever surface they're resting on, and employing disabled people for assembly (www.thebookseat.com); a device that lets away-from-home grownups read a story aloud, and the child plays it back and follows along in the printed book (www.ripplereader.com); a pointer that plays audio when aimed at certain spots, with many possible uses in education, training, language learning, vision disabilities, etc. (www.sdxi.com); numerous electronic interfaces for publisher/bookseller support, web creation and e-book sales
  • Charity initiatives, including a nonprofit that arranges with publishers to donate overstock to schools and nonprofits in Asia (www.booksforasia.org)
  • LightningSource, perhaps the largest digital player in the industry, was demonstrating the Espresso Book Machine, which can produce a one-off book in four minutes and is small enough to be sold to bookstores—potentially changing the entire market

Shel Horowitz, Editor of Down to Business, is the author of Grassroots Marketing for Authors and Publishers and seven other books. His reports on BEA since 1997 can be found on the Publishing section of Down to Business Magazine


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