Niching Through the Book Industry: The 2015 Book Expo America

TRENDS

What used to be marginal in food books is now mainstream. Huge number of titles on vegan, gluten-free, diets for diabetes and cancer, paleo—even several that combined two or more of these themes.

Quite a few books on tiny houses, but far fewer on general green living, renewable energy, or green business (though there were at least a few)—yet the cover for my own forthcoming book, Guerrilla Marketing to Heal the World, drew quite a bit of interest. I did see a cover for what promises to be a gorgeous coffee table book on green architecture: Bali Sustainable Visions, by Duncan Murray Kirk and photographer Isabella Ginanneschi. Perhaps the fall-off has to do with the temporarily lower cost of fossil fuels.

Santa Claus is in, with a couple of dozen variations. And so are Holocaust memoirs or books based on diaries from the previous generation, several of them self-published (and all of them a bit late considering most will have 2016 pub dates and thus miss any World War II anniversary promotion—and their authors/surviving protagonists are at least in their late 80s.

Multicultural fiction is big, and often involves protagonists from oppressed peoples (Jews during the Holocaust, Palestinians today) and sometimes a cultural crossing. So are books whose protagonists discover magical powers: for example, a girl on Cape Cod who discovers she’s charged with healing the earth.

LGBT titles concentrated heavily on fiction and erotica, and a lot less on lesbian and gay practical living titles. This, I think, is more evidence of the mainstreaming of same-sex households; the market no longer feels a need for books on how to get along in a mostly straight community, etc. However, the Trans community is the next frontier, with books like New Harbinger’s The Gender Quest Workbook: A Guide for Teens and Young Adults Exploring Gender Identity by Drs. Rylan Jay Testa and Deborah Coolhart

In children’s literature, there was definitely more YA fiction than last year, but books for very young children dominated. Many picture books are covering topical themes or health issues.

Publishing is still pretty slow to get topical books out. The only book I saw on the latest developments in the Middle East was The Fallacy of the Islamic State, by Badreldin Yousif Elsimat, published by something called the Centre on Taweel Studies. And, shockingly, I did not see a single book by or about any of the 2016 presidential contenders. There were a couple of books on Edward Snowden, privacy, and whistleblowing, but that already feels kind of dated to me.

Travel books are still very popular, and increasingly glitzy—but, thanks no doubt to the Internet—a lot of the related nonbook items (such as maps and trip planners) have pretty much gone away, or at least their publishers have chosen not to exhibit at BEA.

Speaking of nonbook items: Apparel continues to grow in popularity in the nonbook area, with at least three different companies making t-shirts, totebags, and other items from classic book covers such as Goodnight Moon. Random word lithographs were on display in a stand called Lithographs From Books.

There are a lot fewer really glitzy full-color illustrated coffee table art books. But I did see Abbeville Press’s line of very heavy coffee table books in slipcases, with some unusual spins like The History of Paris in Paintings (also books in the same series covering Venice and Rome, at least) as well as a much less artsy book in the same format, The Art of Things: Product Design Since 1945.

The foreign publishing presence was quite different this year. China was this year’s featured country, and took this role very seriously. Not only did their pavilion take up an enormous percentage of the floor (probably equivalent to 25 or 30 typical booths, sprawling in shopping mall fashion all over the front of the hall), but also pretty much an entire wing of meeting rooms as well as a presentation area on the main floor, with room for more than 100 attenders and constant presentations. And Chinese were much in evidence all around the floor, visiting booths, staffing their own booths, and making speeches.

It seemed there were a lot fewer other foreign countries represented, but the ones that showed up trended more exotic, including several from the Arab world that had increased their booth space, plus Turkey. Armenia was there—a country I don’t remember seeing exhibit in the past. Hardly anything from Latin America, while Europe was represented but scaled way back, lacking even the usual huge pavilion from Germany and the Frankfurt Book Fair. Italy’s booth was small. In one recent year, Spain was the featured country and had a massive presence (though still only about half what the Chinese brought); this year, I didn’t see any booth from Spain.

The biggest absence was the crowds. Other than the enormous lines to get signed copies from celebrity authors (the line for Snooki was particularly long) and any time there was free champagne or refreshments, it was generally extremely easy to get right up to a booth and meet people, often with no waiting at all. Even the big publishers’ booths were not crowded. BEA organizers put the number of verified book professionals attending only BEA at 10,832, down from 10,965 in 2014 —but the total number of professionals in attendance at 20,895, up a bit from last year. The difference is that verified attenders responded to an email and filled out a survey saying they attended. But the lower figure is what it felt like, waking through the nearly empty corridors.

Yet the exhibitors didn’t feel discouraged; this seemed to be a case of quality outpulling quantity. I personally had many very good interactions, and people took the time to talk in more depth than in some more crowded years.

This year, BEA was only 2-1/2 days, opening Wednesday at noon—WHY did they take away the morning?—and closing Friday afternoon. According to the official report (cited above), BookCon, a co-organized event for the general public that ran Saturday in the same hall, was quite well-attended. However, I didn’t attend; by the time that event was announced, I already had a plane ticket for Barcelona leaving Friday night.

INDIVIDUAL TITLES WORTH NOTING

  • Powershift: From Fossil Energy to Dynamic Solar Power, Robert Stayton, Sandstone Publishing

  • Eat Local for Less: Ultimate Guide To Opting Out Of Our Broken Industrial Food System, Julie Castillo, Ruka press, Washington DC

  • Then Comes Marriage: United States V. Windsor and the Defeat of DOMA by Roberta Kaplan, from major publisher W.W. Norton—oddly, the only book I saw on the rapidly expanding world of legalized same-sex marriage.

  • An unusual self-published children’s picture book on black soldiers who fought on the confederate side, Uncle T and the Uppity Spy, by Gregory Newson; the author was dressed in a Confederate uniform, of course.

IMPRINTS

  • Book Publishing Company, Tennessee. Big Line of vegan: PaleoVegan, Cookin' Crunk: Eating Vegan in The Dirty South, almond milk cookbook. This is the long-runing publishing division of The Farm, one of the few surviving 1970s-era large communes.

  • Roost, imprint of Buddhist publisher Shambhala: parenting, craft and cooking books, beginning to publish some green living titles including one on urban composting: Compost City: Practical Composting Know-How for Small-Space Living by Rebecca Louie. Also Compost: A Family Guide to Making Soil from Scraps by Ben Raskin, Cold Antler Farm: A Memoir of Growing Food and Celebrating Life on a Scrappy Six-Acre Homestead by Jenna Woginrich, Seedswap: The Gardener's Guide to Saving and Swapping Seeds by Josie Jeffrey. One of the booth staff told me she sees a lot of synergy between the green living and Buddhist titles and expects each to grow interest in the other.

  • Firefly Books has added a lot of vegan, vegetarian, and healthy titles to its cookbook line, and also offers titles like 50 Plants that Changed the Course of History/50 Plants that Changed the Course of History (both published back in 2011) and a beautiful photo book of mushrooms that they’ll be translating from French.

  • Publications International takes a similar direction, with The Vegan Bible, Cook for the Cure, Quinoa Cookbook, Farm to Table, and a 101 Best line that includes vegan foods, smoothies and juices, and superfoods.

  • Seven Stories offers “voices of conscience and imagination,” a mix of deep progressive politics and fiction.

  • The only imprint I saw doing anything that looked like a 50 Shades of Grey book was Sellers Publishing, with 169 Shades of Play and 99 Shades of Play, both with cover art that strongly evoked the poorly-written erotic bestsellers. They also had a line of 30, 40, 50, and 60 things to do when you turn 30, 40, 50, and 60, respectively.

  • Weiser’s Disinformation Books imprint produces very edgy social change and media/pop culture literacy titles like Prison Industrial Complex, 50 Facts That Should Change the World 2.0, Beyond the Bleep: The Definitive Unauthorized Guide to What the Bleep Do We Know?!, Don't Believe It!: How Lies Become News—but also edgy books in other areas, such as occult and magic.

  • Palimpsest has unearthed a bunch of obscure public domain titles from Scotland, many of significant historical interest and bundled them together in themed ebook collections. I looked at Memoirs of a Highland Lady by Elizabeth Grant, part of the Scottish Women Writers collection. Written over a 50-year period in the late 19th century but primarily covering the early 19th century, this book, published posthumously in 1898, brings a fair bit of wit and skilled observation powers to her description of a woman’s life in the Scottish Highlands, though at times it gets weighted down with long genealogies and such.

  • There are always new gimmicks in publishing. This year’s topper was a line of “wearable books” from Capstone: board books your kid can hold up to his or her face (see photo). The booth attendant assured me he’d road tested it very successfully with his five-year-old, but I just wanted to roll my eyes.

PUBLISHING SERVICES

  • Author Services’ many imprints are now apparently offering much better covers (probably for a premium—plenty of crappy ones too). Interiors are still pretty poor in the half-dozen titles I flipped open

Shel Horowitz 10th book, Guerrilla Marketing to Heal the World, shows how the profit motive can turn hunger and poverty into sufficiency, war into peace, and catastrophic climate change into planetary balance.


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