IBPA Report from BookExpo/BookCon 2018
Wednesday, July 11, 2018
Posted by: Angela Bole
During its June 20, 2018 meeting, the IBPA Board of Directors agreed IBPA members were well served by the decision to forgo cooperative booth display at BookExpo 2018 and unanimously voted to maintain the decision for the 2019 show.
Read below to understand their thought process.
By Angela Bole, IBPA Chief Executive Officer –
This year's BookExpo and BookCon events took place May 30-June 3, 2018 at New York City's Javits Center. Generally, those from IBPA who attend a show on behalf of membership write and publish a report within a week, maybe two. This year, I’ve taken my time to gather as much feedback as possible from members, the IBPA Board of Directors, media reports, and general industry professionals in order to fully inform the following takeaways and recommendations.
If you’ve followed IBPA’s thinking about BookExpo and BookCon this past year, you know we went into the 2018 show with a lot of questions. The most crucial question, however, was could IBPA feel comfortable recommending the ‘Reimagined BookExpo’ to members as a place to raise awareness among booksellers, librarians, and media about independently published books?
To find out, I attended the 2018 show with IBPA’s director of marketing and programming Lee Wind and IBPA’s incoming board chair Brooke Warner. Together, we took just over 25 separate meetings where we discussed current and possible partnerships and what people thought about the value of BookExpo and BookCon today.
Everyone we met said they felt having a single time and place for the traditional book industry to come together and discuss business was beneficial. Our meetings were productive on a maintaining connections basis and our offsite Literature & Libations happy hour was a fun and lively networking event for IBPA members (see Photos from IBPA’s Literature & Librations at the end of this report).
But meetings are only one side of the BookExpo coin. What about the crucial question of whether or not BookExpo is a good place to raise awareness among booksellers, librarians, and media about independently published books?
After much consideration, and many conversations with members who participated in the show this year, the answer we’ve come to is BookExpo is such a place "for a few, certainly not for all, and definitely not for author publishers (i.e., self-published authors)."
Let me explain.
Publishers (and some service providers) foot the bulk of the bill for BookExpo by buying exhibitor space on the trade show floor. Each publisher’s space is built out as a mini showroom for displaying upcoming titles and holding author signings. For 34 years, IBPA hosted a cooperative booth for members who didn’t have the number of books or financial resources necessary to build out their own space. The cost to host IBPA’s cooperative booth was between $85,000 and $110,000 each year – a considerable expense we could no longer justify following the 2017 program (read IBPA to Forgo Cooperative Book Display at BookExpo 2018).
|IBPA's cooperative booth at BookExpo 2016. The book display shelves were featured along the wall in the the back; the author signing table was placed on the corner.
The decision to forgo a cooperative booth was a difficult one, even though applauded by many IBPA members (see comments in above article). Coming out of the 2018 show, we can say for sure that our members were well served by the decision. We now believe, with few exceptions, that there is little reason for a publisher not part of the traditional eco-system to exhibit on the trade show floor. This includes niche publishers, regional publishers, and most certainly author publishers. As mentioned above, exhibiting at BookExpo is "good for a few, certainly not all, and definitely not for author publishers."
Good For a Few, but Certainly Not All
Independent publishers publishing several dozen new titles (or more) each year and already supported by a national distributor could find value in exhibiting at BookExpo or BookCon. The expense to do so should be considered a marketing expense and part of a larger marketing effort or sales plan. According to Porter Anderson’s BookExpo recap, the ‘reimagined’ aspect of BookExpo related to "a major effort this year to emphasize booksellers and to attract them with special chances to meet one-on-one with publishers’ editors and others. There was a strong cooperative effort with the American Booksellers Association, recognized by ABA chief Oren Teicher during the [ABA’s] annual meeting."
A focus on independent booksellers means a focus on traditional publishing and blockbuster titles. There are exceptions, of course, but generally speaking, independent booksellers prioritize established publishers. Booksellers are pragmatic and risk-averse. They want to invest time, money, and energy in books they can be confident will sell because the publisher has demonstrated a solid national marketing campaign. It’s impossible to say exactly what an appropriate marketing campaign is for a particular book, but generally speaking, if a book's marketing budget is in excess of $5,000 and includes printing over 150 galley copies, it makes sense for an independent publisher to find out if the timing is right for a signing at BookExpo or BookCon. If this isn't the case, it's unlikely that BookExpo is the best platform for the book's discoverability.
Related to regional content, it’s true that most independent bookstores make a point of offering unique regional content in store. That said, niche and regional publishers don’t need to exhibit at BookExpo to get their regional titles into an independent bookstore. They would be better served by having their sales people visit the bookstores in their region – saving both time and money and building up personal relationships.
In my 2017 BookExpo show report I wrote that show attendees seemed to "skip the traditional browsing that was such a part of previous shows in favor of jumping from pre-planned meeting to pre-planned meeting – a good enough use of time, I suppose, but not something that fosters the serendipitous discovery of new books." This year was much the same. This cultural shift is important to understand because it means that, should an IBPA member decide to spend the money to exhibit, they will only feel successful if they set up meetings in advance and don’t expect people to be interested in their books simply because they built a booth. The days of BookExpo foot traffic bringing curious book lovers into publishers’ exhibits are behind us.
Definitely Not for Author Publishers
Without pulling punches, BookExpo on the whole is rather hostile toward author publishers. Some of this has to do with author publishers who come to the show without understanding the rules (pitching Big 5 publishers, literary agents, and/or distributors in hopes one of them will publish or represent their book, for example – an activity BookExpo considers particularly gauche), but mostly it’s for the same reason the show isn’t great for very small and/or not yet established independent publishers generally: e.g., a singluar focus on blockbuster titles backed by considerable publisher-provided marketing dollars.
The IBPA Board’s Decision
Members of the IBPA Board of Directors discussed the issues above during their June 20, 2018 Board meeting. They also discussed a recent offer from BookExpo executives suggesting IBPA could again sell exhibitor space to members in 2019. The space IBPA sold would become part of an "indie publisher showcase."
Despite conceptual interest in something like an "indie publisher showcase" at BookExpo 2019, the Board ultimately decided it’s not the right time to push the purchase of exhibit space to members. All the reasons above inform this decison, of course, but the Board also knows that established IBPA members with national distribution can already purchase exhibit space of this kind through their distributor. Some choose to, many don’t. Regardless, IBPA would not be able to offer a better deal to members than they’re already getting from their distributor. Nor can we see the benefit of a member going outside their distributor zone.
By the end of their June 20th meeting, the IBPA Board unanimously voted to approach BookExpo 2019 in the same way it approached this year’s show. That is with a focus on one-on-one meetings, member networking opportunities, educational programming, and no reselling of exhibit space on the trade show floor. This decision melds with the feedback we’ve collected from members, media, and general industry professionals over the past few weeks.
Although fewer independent and author publishers are attending BookExpo each year, it is still the book industry’s largest national trade event. And, although BookCon remains a consumer show generally focused on blockbuster authors and titles, it is still a massive gathering of readers with potential upside for independent and author publishers. With these things in mind, we want to be sure we continue to give proper consideration to both events.
All of us at IBPA feel the decision not to resell exhibit space at BookExpo 2019 is the best decision for now. At the same time, we understand that things can change for BookExpo and that BookCon, in particular, is still evolving and may prove to be a more viable event for independent publisher investment in the end.
We remain open to securing positive opportunities for IBPA members at both BookExpo and BookCon. Stay tuned for further updates as they become available. In the meantime, feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section below or email them to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d be happy to hear from you.
--Angela Bole, IBPA CEO (July 2018)
Photos from IBPA’s Literature & Librations at BookExpo 2018
The photos below were taken during IBPA's May 31, 2018 Literature & Libations Happy Hour held at Clyde Frazier's Wine & Dine in New York City.