Book Orgy in Chicago

Report on the largest booksellers' event in the U.S., host to over 24,000 industry movers and shakers.

There were at least four major book industry events in Chicago in late May and early June; I managed to make it to three of them: Publishers Marketing Association University, Book Expo of America (formerly called the American Booksellers Association trade show), and the Printer's Row street fair. The Jenkins Group, publishers of Small Press magazine, had their own group of seminars, which I did not attend.

It was quite a thrill to be around such a concentration of books and book lovers. The book biz is still, despite all the mergers and buyouts, despite the installation of bottom-line profits on the thrones of the largest publishers, a business that attracts lovers of books. Let's face it: why else would anyone put up with the craziness of publishing? Booksellers, librarians, authors, publishers, publishing-industry vendors such as printers and marketing consultants‹we all get wide-eyed excited over a really good read.

This report will focus on the big industry event, BEA: host to over 24,000 industry movers and shakers. THE OVERALL VIBE This was my first year attending, and I was pleasantly surprised. First of all, comparing it to other major trade shows - Macworld, Inc World, even some local business-to-business trade shows - I was struck by a few differences.

* No one was screaming! Hype hucksters are a feature at those other big shows - everyone's trying to bring you over to their booth with some gimmick, usually a loud one. It was so quiet walking the aisles with no carnival barkers, no loud and flashy demonstrations going out over a microphone, no "Wall of Light" videos... Ahhhh! As a result, it provided the lowest stress level of any major trade show I've ever been to. Perhaps they see booksellers as a more mature audience that doesn't respond well to all the shouting - and that was just fine with me! It was such a pleasure to be at a huge trade show that was so laid back! No carnival barkers, nobody blasting over a PA, most booths staffed by company executives rather than "booth babes" (I did not make this term up - these are people with near-zero product knowledge but who can theoretically attract traffic to a booth based on looks; computer shows are swarming with them).

* There was a remainder section that could have seduced me into missing the whole show and renting a truck to bring back the haul (I was brave, I resisted, and got out intact after half an aisle). It was also ridiculously easy to stock up on brand new freebies (again, I was disciplined and kept it to a dozen or so).

* There were a few major publishers there, and a few major industry players who are not publishers (significant presence from Ingram and Amazon.com, for instance) - but many of the New York Giants stayed away. That created a lot more space for small publishers to display their wares, attract serious bookseller interest, and pursue co-marketing deals.

TRENDS IN PUBLISHING Lots of lavishly illustrated coffee-table books, and a spread of elegant design into other areas. Doing cookbooks, for example, has become an art form in a way that was rare even five years ago... Small press production looks more and more professional all the time... business and computer books are still very hot... quirky small press titles were the most interesting things... The ways you can slice a niche are infinite...

Covers of novels also have come a long way. If small publishers want to compete in bookstores, we can't afford to throw away first impressions on a cover that's anything less than outstanding. Covers are getting more artistic, less in-your-face, but still very readable. (This seemed to be less true of non-fiction books.)

Erotica is in. Many titles from many publishers appealing to sexual interests - even a book on sex and the presidency (one tidbit: a quote from a woman re the Donna Rice affair. "My heart is for Bush but my bush is for Hart).

Frugality is in (good news for me as a publisher of books on saving money!) And the focus seems to be broadening from basic frugality into frugality in different niches, especially travel (extremely good news for me, since Penny-Pinching Hedonist will save most readers hundreds of dollars a year on travel).

Multiculturalism and cross-cultural explorations are in, for both literature and non-fiction. A number of publishers have really carved out a specialty here, offering a dozen titles here and there.

Quirky little niche books from small publishers cover fascinating ground. Titles like: Wine Grapes of Australia ... The Great American Pin-Up ... Waiter, There's a Fly in My Soup (a how-to for waiters/waitresses, which I actually saw at Printer's Row) ... Radio Canada International: History and Development ... and thousands of others

DEAL-MAKING: BEA was extremely fertile ground. I came back with two hot and three lukewarm foreign rights possibilities, several new possible distribution channels, a few people interested in: co-marketing ... my writing services ... articles ... or even book authorship. I even found half a dozen leads for my wife's new literary novel. All I can say is W O W ! In a decent business-to-business or computer show, I'm lucky to come back with four or five contacts. Here I came back with armfuls, and barely scratched the surface of what was there. Nor was I the only one. Everywhere I went, people were hunched over counters and conference tables, taking furious notes and chatting animatedly. And nearly every time I wanted to talk to someone, either I had to wait, someone else was waiting when we were done, or both. Some of the co-op booths such as Publishers Marketing Association were generating enormous numbers of leads.

Shel Horowitz is the Editor of Down to Business, Global Arts Review, and Global Travel Review magazines at http://www.frugalfun.com. A writer and marketing consultant, he is the author and publisher of Marketing Without Megabucks: How to Sell Anything on a Shoestring and The Penny-Pinching Hedonist: How to Live Like Royalty with a Peasant's Pocketbook. To read his report on the 1998 BEA, please click here.


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