Should Book Expo America open to the Public?

Attending the big annual event, Book Expo America, no longer seems critical for success in the book industry, but BEA can take steps to revive its lagging attendance.

In a recent chat with my new book publicist, Cathy Lewis, we discussed the relatively low turnout for Book Expo America 2015 compared to prior years. We agreed on the main reasons for the decline in participation

The big houses already are sending their reps to call on the chains and indie booksellers, so they do not need BEA to pitch new titles and take orders. The medium to small publishers mostly have distributors that call upon the chains and indie booksellers, so they do not need to spend big bucks for exhibit space to reach booksellers when they already have distributors making sales pitches in the field.

The few remaining chains do not need to send buyers to BEA because the big houses and distributors are calling on them already. The indie booksellers too often are operating on such thin margins that they cannot afford the time and expense for attending BEA, anyway.

On the flip side, BEA remains valuable as a a forum for education and information on industry trends. The conferences and panels are worthwhile for newbies and old pros alike, but these educational sessions require meeting rooms not exhibit space.

BEA remains valuable as a foreign rights marketplace. Agents and publushers still find value in attending to make deals, but they do not need exhibit space to do business over coffee or other beverages at BEA.

And BEA remains valuable as a great place for networking, seeing old friends and making new friends. The parties are fun, too.

Taking all of these factors into consideration, when you look at BEA from the viewpoint of economics, if attendance continues to decline, staging an annual event at the costly Javits Convention Center in New York or the slightly less expensive McCormick Place in Chicago likely looks less and less appealing long term to both Reed Exhibitions and the American Booksellers Association.

However, a possible solution came out of my dialogue with Cathy Lewis.

Why not open BEA to the public as a book festival on the last last day (or add an extra day). If admission is reasonably priced, surely there must be enough book lovers in metropolitan New York and surrounding areas (or the greater Chicago area) to generate big audiences for author readings and long lines to buy books at author signings. There futher could be seminars and workshops about reading and literacy for parents and educators.

The exhibitors would not need to change much in their booths (or stands) beyond setting up cash registers or using tablets with credit card scanners for selling whatever copies of new titles were not given away during the trade show (saving the cost of shipping books back after BEA).

In fact, opening the last part of BEA to the public might even make it profitable for more publishers to exhibit at the annual event, including some houses that have not had much presence at BEA for awhile.

Well, that’s the idea, presented for your consideration. Your comments are most welcome.

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Judah Freed is the author of the proposed book, Making Global Sense, represented by literary agent Maryann Karinch at the Rudy Agency. Judah now moderates #LitChat on Twitter the first and third Wednesday of every month (you can follow him @judahfreed).

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